To give a thorough account of the accomplishments of the Eighty-First Chemical Mortar Battalion (81-CMB) would take thousands of pages.
To detail the heroic deeds and meritorious service of the gallant officers and men of the Eighty-First would also take more thousands of pages.
A booklet the size of this could be written about each enlisted man and each officer. It is believed the history is concise, yet shows the battalion to have lived up to its motto, “Equal To The Task.”
Jack W. Lipphardt
Lt Col, CWS Commanding
I. Activation and Basic Training
The story of the 81-CMB does not start back in the trusty annals of early American history. Insofar as antiquity and tradition are concerned, it is conspicuously new, but the few years since its activation have been packed with accomplishment, heroism, and battle experience in keeping with the highest traditions of any unit in the United States Army. The 81st was formed when the country was faced with the necessity of creating a highly trained, efficient army in a minimum of time.
The 81st Chemical Battalion (Motorized) was activated by General Order #22, April 25 1942, Hq Fort D. A. Russell, Texas, pursuant to General Order #39, 14 April 1942, Hq Third Army, San Antonio, Texas, and War Department letter, March 25 1942. Thus was born the 81st, without fanfare, but with quiet purpose. It was up to the battalion to write its own history and these pages will show how well the job was done. The original cadre of the battalion was specified in a special order from Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, dated 19 April 1942, ordering five officers and 76 enlisted men to report to Fort D. A. Russell for duty. Lt Col Thomas H. James, was assigned to the battalion as battalion commander. Surprising as it may seem after three years and the usual drifting, transferring, and evacuation of personnel, a fair number of the original cadre were still with the battalion at the end of the war in Europe. These “old timers” are listed below with their 1942’s and 1945’s grades :
1/Lt Jack W. Lipphardt, (Lt Col)
2/Lt Ernest G. McDaniel, (Captain)
2/Lt Herbert F. Levy, (Captain)
2/Lt Harold L. Hausman, (Major)
M/Sgt John W. Bundy, (1/Lt)
Pvt Charles S. Gardner, (1/Lt)
Pvt Walter R. Young, (1/Lt)
Cpl Edwin E. Johnson, (T/Sgt)
S/Sgt Rupert A. Price, (1/Sgt)
Sgt Leonard P. Gibbs, (1/Sgt)
Cpl Oliver H. Fisher, (Pfc)
Pvt Paul A. Sellars, (S/Sgt)
Pvt Steven A. Emery, (M/Sgt)
Pvt Victor F. Minchow, (M/Sgt)
T/5 Rudolph A. Hilland, (T/5)
Cpl Harry E. Randall, (M/Sgt)
Cpl Timothy J. Sweeney, (Pfc)
Pvt Charles H. Miller, (T/4)
Pvt John Kuchmy, (T/5)
Pvt John H. Yungclas, (T/4)
Pvt Joseph E. Clapham, (T/Sgt)
Pvt Frank Florio, (1/Sgt)
Pvt Toney Sirianni, (T/4)
Pvt Mike Carahalios, (S/Sgt)
Pvt George A. Haase, (S/Sgt)
Pvt Michael A. Martino, (S/Sgt)
Pvt Alfred Paparelli, (S/Sgt)
Pvt Theodore F. Shulski, (T/5)
Lt Col Thomas H. James assumed command of the 81st Chemical Battalion by its first general order, dated April 26, 1942. A West Pointer and a Regular Army officer of wide and varied experience, he immediately set to work organizing the battalion. To him and to the able officers and men aiding him is due the credit for bringing the organization to the peak of combat efficiency and morale it attained by the time it was first committed to battle. The day that Col James assumed command the cadre was assigned to the various companies, thus creating the framework upon which the four letter companies and headquarters were built after the arrival of additional personnel.
Fort D. A. Russell, also known as Fort Francis E. Warren, Francis E. Warren Air Force Base and Fort David A. Russell, was a post and base of operations for the United States Army, and later the Air Force, located in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The fort had been established in 1867 to protect workers for the Union Pacific Railroad. It was named in honor of David Allen Russell, a Civil War general killed at the Battle of Opequon. In 1930, the fort’s name was changed to Fort Francis E. Warren. In 1949, it became Francis E. Warren Air Force Base.
Fort D. A. Russell, the birthplace of the 81st and where it experienced its growing pains, is situated just outside of Marfa, Texas, in the heart of the Big Bend Country. The fort was an old one, having been a cavalry post of the Border Patrol. Marfa itself was a little cattle town with a big sense of hospitality and a bit of Old Mexico. The Paisano Hotel, the Marfa joy, the Crewes and Jimmy’s Place will strike a familiar, pleasant note to all who experience their hospitality. Mexico wasn’t many miles away and Ojinaga and Juarez drew many visitors from the 81st in search of Mexican atmosphere. The first impression of Fort D. A. Russell and the surrounding territory was that of vast waste and plenty of space, without a tree or a really green blade of grass for miles around, but soon the charms of the plains, the rugged beauty, mellow sunlight, and glorious nights won over. Surrounding the fort was a range of small mountains, the Smith Hills, and off in the distance could be seen the landmark of the country, Cathedral Mountain.
In May, approximately 75 men joined the battalion, coming from all over the country, and on Jun 9 approximately 250 men came from Fort Dix. Between Jun and Oct small groups were assigned until Oct 17 when Mississippi descended on us. About 500 men from the land of turnip greens and cornbread were assigned to the battalion without any previous basic training. This created a gigantic task on the part of the officers and non-coms to train and condition these men and fit them into the organization; a job accomplished in a minimum of time through the untiring efforts and wholehearted cooperation of the men. The battalion to this day consists largely of those Mississippi lads, although they could not be recognized as the raw, green recruits of those days. Today, they are seasoned veterans, proven in battle, equal to any combat soldiers in the Army.
Equipment and training aids were scarce and inadequate in those days, but American ingenuity at improvising when equipment was lacking paid dividends. The battalion at first was equipped with .45 cal. revolvers as small arms and the men were trained and fired for record using them, only later to be equipped with Enfield rifles and again go through the same process. Despite the antiquated weapons, nearly all qualified and many made sharpshooter and expert. From activation until November of that year, the 81st Chemical Battalion was a battalion without mortars. Although it was discouraging not to have the basic weapons to work with, the time was well spent in physical conditioning, the school of the soldier, identification of chemical agents, field marches, field hygiene, small arms training, etc. Few will forget the obstacle course; but then also memorable were the swimming parties at Balmorhea and the company beer parties. Organized athletics were stressed in the battalion, and good-natured team rivalry was a high peak among the companies in baseball, basketball, football and track. The hikes to Smith Hills and Cathedral Mountain over the hot, rough, dusty caliche will be remembered by all. The bivouacs at Smith Hills, with the night patrolling exercises, were all too realistic to some who were the victims of over-enthusiastic patrols looking for prisoners.
In September the mortar carts arrived, but still no mortars. It afforded a good deal of amusement to have to drag the carts over hill and dale for miles just to “get the feel of it.” In October the mortars arrived and everyone’s morale went up. We finally had our guns! From then on the bulk of the time was spent in mortar drill, care and cleaning of the mortar, and the tactics and technique of firing. Dry run followed dry run and now everyone wondered if we were ever going to fire a live round. Gunner examinations followed soon after, and the results were excellent. In January 1943 the anticipated day came. A few rounds were released to the battalion and everyone was in a dither as to who would fire the first round. The signal honor fell to C Co, and PFC Place was the lucky man to drop the round down the barrel while the battalion waited with bated breath. A general idea as to the difficulties encountered due to lack of training equipment can be had when one considers that for a long period of time the battalion’s ammunition dump contained exactly 25 rounds of FS for training purposes.
The really big event of the firing in Texas was the battalion shoot at Turner’s Ranch in February 1943, when the outfit was given permission to fire up all ammunition on hand. On this occasion the battalion took up prepared positions the night before and at dawn all mortars in the battalion fired what was then considered an enormous number of rounds of WP and FS; even the now-forgotten Livens projectors were fired. Many will remember digging the emplacements for those Livens in the hard, oh so hard, Texas soil that night. The colonel, there on an inspection tour, commended Col James on the accuracy and efficiency of the firing.
Soon after, the battalion was alerted for departure from Texas for participation in Louisiana maneuvers. April 2, 1943, the first contingent of the battalion left Fort D. A. Russell for Leesville, Louisiana, and on the following day the rest of the battalion followed. The grand send-off the people of Marfa gave will long be remembered by those present. They were truly sorry to see us go. The 81st had made a wonderful impression on them and had gained many friends. A military band from the airfield nearby serenaded the train as it left the station. The first phase of our military career was over, and ahead of us lay the task of preparing ourselves for combat by vigorous operations in the field.
II. Maneuvers and Training in the US
The 81st Mortar Chemical Battalion arrived at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on April 5 1943, where it participated in maneuvers in conjunction with the 85th Infantry Division until May 4. The battalion gained much experience in the reconnaissance, selection and occupation of mortar positions and in the tactical employment of mortars in support of an infantry division. This was its first experience in operating with troops other than its own. Probably the biggest problem during these operations was that of supply and mess. Many times the companies “sweated out” the mess trucks, but in most instances, the “chow” came through. This was also the unit’s first experience at living in the field for a prolonged period, and the chiggers, ticks, “piney woods rooters,” snakes, and rain torrents of it all did their best to make it an arduous one. The rumors flew wide and free from every latrine in the area, especially after a showdown inspection in which all equipment was brought up to combat strength and serviceability, but “we cooled off” for a while. For the battalion, Louisiana maneuvers constituted a good shakedown. It demonstrated our limitations and possibilities, and the things that must be accomplished before the peak of efficiency could be reached. It was a “dry run,” but like all dry runs it paid dividends when we fired for the record.
It was in Louisiana on Easter Sunday that the battalion held its first anniversary and Col James presented to the unit, in a colorful ceremony, its battalion colors on which was portrayed its insignia and motto. Col James devised the insignia while the battalion was stationed at Texas. The shield has a field of blue and gold, signifying the colors of the Chemical Warfare Service. A spouting volcano, a replica of Cathedral Mountain, which is the outstanding landmark for miles around Fort D. A. Russell, is rampant on a golden background. The spout of smoke and flame was added to signify our future mission of smoking and burning the enemy. Subjacent to this is the Lone Star of Texas on a field of blue. Below the shield is a scroll bearing the battalion’s motto, “Equal to the Task,” picked from many submitted to Col James. To Lt Bundy (then M/Sgt) goes the credit for devising that phrase. How prophetic those words were will be proven in the pages to follow.
Amphibious Maneuvers at Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida
On May 6, 1943, the 81st arrived at Camp Gordon Johnston, Carrabelle, Florida, for participation in amphibious commando and physical training. The battalion was attached to the 28th Infantry Division for administrative purposes during its stay there. The program was vigorous, hazardous and exciting, and several fell by the wayside due to the rapid pace and constant exertion under the hot, tropical Florida sun. The program consisted of combat swinging, speed marches, unorthodox exercises (and we do mean unorthodox), street fighting, Judo, hand-to-hand fighting, use of knife and bayonet, cargo net practice on mock-ups, loading and unloading in small craft, demolitions, and the use of explosives. The battalion also had its first taste of the infiltration course at this time. The attack on Schicklgruber village with live ammunition furnished plenty of excitement and firsthand experience in street fighting and battle sounds. Trips to Tallahassee, beach parties, and other extra-curricular activities took the curse off this particular period, but no one was sorry when orders came to leave the place that Winchell had dubbed “The Alcatraz of the Army.” Every man that came through that training will admit, however, that he was in better physical shape for it. The battalion departed from this station on June 9-10, 1943.
Camp Pickett, Virginia
On Jun 12 1943, the 81st Chemical Battalion arrived at Camp Pickett, Virginia, where it was stationed until Oct 14 of that year. During that time, the battalion was trained in the use of the Springfield rifle, the carbine, and the BAR, firing for record in all these weapons, and the old Enfields were finally turned in. It was at Camp Pickett that the battalion fired its first rounds of HE and everyone was more than pleased with the wallop it packed. A good deal of time was spent in mortar drill, bringing the squads, platoons, and companies to a high degree of efficiency. Many of the personnel found accommodations in nearby towns and brought their wives there to be near them. Practically every officer and man was given a leave or furlough during the five months that the battalion was stationed there.
During the months of August and September, the battalion participated in several amphibious maneuvers with the 28th Division at Camp Bradford, Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia, and B Company spent two weeks on mountain maneuvers in West Virginia. In the course of training at the amphibious base the battalion received instruction and training in the use and adjustment of life belts, and in the purposes and characteristics of various types of landing crafts. Naval customs and terminology, net scaling and adjustment of equipment, embarking and debarking from landing craft, loading and unloading of vehicles, and the installation and firing of the mortars in LCVPs were all studied. Later on, the battalion, attached to the 28th Division, engaged in the practice assault on the “Solomon Islands” in Chesapeake Bay. For many members of the battalion this was the first experience with sea travel, and as a result, a few cases of mal-de-mer were experienced. For its ship-to-shore operation the battalion did an excellent job. This was also the battalion’s first experience with C and K rations, and actually we thought they were good.
B Co, attached to the 109-IR of the 28-ID, spent a vigorous two weeks in the vicinity of Elkins, West Virginia, participating in mountain maneuvers. The long hard pulls, and hand-carrying the mortars up those steep mountains, taxed the energy of everybody, but a different method of moving equipment was learned. On Aug 13 1943, D Co was detached from the battalion for overseas duty. The first contingent of the outfit was on its way. Many envied them, others were damned glad it wasn’t their company, but all wished them Godspeed. Eight months were to go by before they rejoined the battalion. The battalion (less D Co) was alerted for overseas shipment on Sep 30 1943, and at once plunged into the feverish activity of its P.O.M. (Preparation for Overseas Movement). All leaves and furloughs were canceled, and censorship and security regulations were explained to the men. On Oct 14 1943, after Col James’ memorable “This Is It” speech, the battalion departed from Camp Pickett, Virginia, for the P.O.E. staging area at Camp Shanks, New York.
III. Staging and Overseas Movement
The battalion arrived at Camp Shanks on Friday, Oct 15, 1943. Here the unit was processed, every item of equipment checked for serviceability, and all excess personal belongings discarded. Every officer and man was given a thorough last-minute physical inspection (which consisted of counting the number of arms, legs and eyes a person possessed). All organizational equipment had been turned in at Pickett and new equipment was to be reissued on the other side. From this it was deduced it was not to be a “shore to shore” operation. Since the unit was alerted shortly after arrival at Shanks, it was restricted to the immediate area for the duration of its stay there. Just 45 minutes from Broadway, and not a thing could be done about it! One man could see his home from Camp Shanks. That really hurt. All the unit censors were kept busy deleting and cutting up letters, but finally the word came. On Oct 20, 1943, the battalion embarked on the Capetown Castle, a British ship formerly used on the South African run. The lights of New York, crossing the river on the ferry, the Red Cross doughnut girls, and the band at the docks, played on personal sentiments. Everyone was quiet and tense until the band started playing “Dixie” and then every Rebel throat in the battalion, plus a few renegade Yankees, took up the tune while marching up the gangplank, loaded down with what seemed to be a ton of equipment.
The following day, Oct 21 1943, after everyone had been assigned quarters, the Capetown Castle steamed out of New York harbor. Many of the men missed their last chance to look at the “Old Lady with the Torch” because the decks were cleared, but those who did wondered when they would see her again. The ship wasn’t long at sea before boat drills were started. It was difficult to get used to wearing life belts at all times. Crap games started everywhere. Musical instruments soon appeared and close harmony on the deck at night was customary. It was good to see the old battle wagon, the Texas, and off on the horizon various cruisers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts. The nearest ships to the Capetown Castle in the convoy were the Empress of Australia and Monarch of Bermuda. One of these was loaded with American nurses. So near and yet so far! The latrine situation was quite a problem, and a helmet was used for a purpose other than the one for which it was intended.
Catalina flying boats and naval blimps escorted us for several days until we got well out to sea. The route followed was the southern one, long and circuitous, but safe. The constant zigzagging of the course of the ship was difficult to become accustomed to at first, and a few cases of seasickness resulted. Despite all orders prohibiting the same, rumors flew fast and furious. It was later learned, after the voyage was over, that the USS Murphy, one of the ships in the convoy, had collided with another ship, resulting in the Murphy being cut in half. The bow section was lost, but the stern section made it back to New York. The danger of submarine attack was ever present, but it did not hinder one bit the harmony sessions, crap games, pseudo-rumors, and high morale. The trip was a long one, taking in all 11 days. D Co, which had left in August, was fortunate to be sent over in the Queen Elizabeth which traveled alone, without escort of any kind, due to her speed; she made the trip in five days. On Nov 2 1943, the Capetown Castle docked at Liverpool, England, amidst the music of an English regimental band and the cheering and waving of a mixed crowd, including ATS girls, soldiers, and the inevitable American MPs. Everyone lined the rails and started throwing cigarettes, chocolate, money, and sundry articles to the ATS girls, but in many cases, the aim was poor and it afforded a great bit of amusement to see the mad scramble for it. Over the public address system the new arrivals were told how to behave in England and a little bit of what to expect there. One particular incident stands out : a Scottish officer wearing kilts walked down the dock, and the clamor of the catcalls, whistling, and yoo-hoos was deafening. The battalion disembarked on Nov 3 and entrained on the curious little English railroad cars that were to carry us to Penkridge, Staffordshire, arriving that afternoon. Part of the battalion had an opportunity to see the havoc of the blitz in Liverpool. The battalion was finally overseas !
IV. England and the Assault Training Center
The winter months of 1943-1944 were spent at Penkridge, in the Midlands country of England, by all companies of the battalion except D Co. During this time, the unit was re-equipped with all its organizational equipment and was kept in shape by a varied program of exercises and many hikes to nearby Channock Chase. Penkridge was a sleepy English village and at first the natives didn’t know quite what to make of the “Yanks,” but when the civilians found out that Americans weren’t all gangsters and that they might sleep safely in their beds at night, they became quite friendly and hospitable. The cultural points of interest were Penkridge Church, Litchfield Cathedral, and Hatherton Hall. For those interested in culture of a lighter vein, Civic Hall at Wolverhampton, the pubs at Stafford, Cannock, and other neighboring towns, served to keep all amused. “You cawn’t miss it,” “Any gum, chum,” “Time please, gentlemen,” became familiar phrases, and despite the protests that it was awful stuff, copious quantities of “Mild and Bitter” were consumed.
All during this period, D Co was at the famous ATC (Assault Training Center) near Ilfracombe, North Devon, acting as school troops. It was not relieved from this duty until Apr 1 1944, at which time it rejoined the battalion. From Dec 1943, through April 1944, each company of the battalion, including parts of headquarters, participated in intensive amphibious and assault exercises at the ATC and along the western and southern coasts of England. Few who participated will forget the regimental landings, firing from LCVPs, the company assault problems, the “hedgehog” at the Assault Training Center, or the exercises Duck 1 and 2, and exercises Fox and Fabius. It was learned later that enemy “E” boats were operating in that vicinity at the time. All these problems were considered rough, but it was found later that they were child’s play compared to actual combat. The battalion was reorganized under a new Table of Organization on Feb 14 1944, and the 376 men rendered surplus by this reorganization were transferred in grade to the 92nd Chemical Battalion then being formed. The members of the unit were sorry to see so many of their friends leave, and the men concerned hated to go, but it was a necessary action.
In March the battalion left Penkridge for Poole, Dorset, where it was rejoined on Apr 1 1944, by D Co. All companies participated in the AA firing at Newquay with the .50 cal. machine gun, and in intensive mortar shoots at Exmoor range in North Devon and at Canford Heath near Poole. However, despite the intensive training program carried out by the battalion during this period, all personnel had sufficient time for recreation. Most of them managed to get to London and many other places of interest on short passes. The foggy weather gave birth to the famous story that England was kept afloat by barrage balloons, but the blackouts seemed to enhance sociability rather than kill it. Many English friends were made, and two men asked for and received permission to marry English girls. On Feb 15 the battalion was attached to V Corps of the 1st US Army. The battalion was further attached to the 1st Infantry Division on Apr 20 1944. It was about this time that the field artillery method of observation and firing was adopted. Its advantages over the old mortar methods were soon proven in combat.
V. Marshaling and Embarkation
After a little more than six months of intensive preparation following its arrival in the United Kingdom, the battalion was alerted on May 12 1944, for what proved to be the greatest event in modern times the invasion of Europe. Together with elements of the 1-ID and attachments, the battalion moved into the marshaling area near Dorchester, Dorset, on May 15. The assault group of this battalion was composed of 437 officers and men and 35 vehicles. Once in the marshaling area, it was held incommunicado from the outside world. The residual elements were moved to Bournemouth, Hants at this time, to join other residual elements of the 1-ID. Later the lead echelon was moved to Falmouth for embarkation and the initial build-up (over strength) was moved to Tiverton for shipment so as to arrive in France and join the forward echelon on D plus 5. The entire assault echelon was moved to Camp D-11, where it remained as a battalion until Sunday, May 28.
During this time, everyone, from the battalion commander to the private of the line, was briefed on the operation. Complete and comprehensive relief maps, recent aerial photographs, and the latest intelligence reports were used, so that every detail of terrain, location of enemy installations and underwater obstacles, etc., was learned with painstaking accuracy. Col James gave what later proved to be his last talk to us, expressing complete confidence in our ability to live up to the words “Equal to the Task.” On this date, the assault echelon was broken up and attached to two combat teams the 16th and 116th. A and C Cos were attached to the 16-CT, made up of the 16-IR of the 1-ID and attached units; B and D Cos to the 116-CT, made up of the 116-IR of the 29-ID plus attachments; and battalion headquarters to the 1-ID Headquarters.
A Co moved to Camp D-4 and D-8
B Co moved to Camp D-1
D Co moved to Camp D-1
C Co moved to Camp D-10
Battalion HQs moved to Camp D-5
Beginning on Jun 1 and continuing through Jun 2, the entire assault echelon was moved to Weymouth harbor where it embarked on various craft, including APAs, an LSI, and LSTs.
A Co was assigned to the SS Henrico (an APA)
B Co to a British APA (Empire Javelin)
C Co to a British LSI (Empire Anvil)
D Co to the USS Charles Carrol
HQs Co to the LST 83
The rear echelons of the various companies embarked at a later date in two Liberty Ships, the Lucille Stone and Louis Kossuth. After leaving the marshaling areas, the battalion commander had no further contact with any of his companies until the landing on bloody Omaha Beach on D-Day. In all, the assault groups spent 96 hours on the choppy waters of the Channel. After the assault groups had embarked, it was announced that D-Day would be Jun 5, but later an announcement was flashed that D-Day had been postponed 24 hours due to bad weather off the coast of Normandy. H-Hour was to be at 0630 hours, Jun 6 1944. It was later learned that it had to be then or be postponed at least a month. What a decision to rest on the shoulders of one man! Yet a more capable man than our Supreme Commander, General “Ike”, would be difficult to find.
On the afternoon of Jun 5, one by one the craft slipped out from Weymouth harbor to assemble with similar groups somewhere in the Channel. The immensity of this mighty invasion fleet was awe-inspiring to everyone who participated in General Badley’s “greatest show on earth.” Here was the armed might of the “decadent democracies” spread out as far as the eye could see. The dry runs were over; this was the record shoot, testing whether a free people could hope to meet and vanquish the regimented power of a brutal dictatorship. It was truly to be a “battle of the giants.”
VI. Invasion and the Beachhead
Just before dawn on Jun 6, as the armada approached the coast of Normandy, bright, lightning-like flashes could be seen illuminating the whole horizon. The arrival of the mightiest convoy that man had ever assembled for a single operation was heralded by a thunderous rumble directly to the front. This was the initial air and sea bombardment laid down on Omaha Beach early that day in an effort to neutralize or soften up the enemy’s prepared positions. Despite the immensity of this preparation and the gigantic losses inflicted on the enemy, the fighting forces were to learn soon enough that they would yet have to pay heavily to gain that little strip of France. Approximately 15 miles from shore the larger craft hove to, and at 0430 all companies transferred their men and mortars to LCVPs. As the men clambered down the cargo nets in the murky, false dawn, the Navy wished them Godspeed, and the craft shoved off from the mother ships into a choppy sea for the rendez-vous areas several hundred yards offshore. Here they circled, endlessly it seemed, causing the boat teams to be wet to the skin and, in many cases, violently seasick. All during this time the promised air support passed overhead, wave after wave, and faces lifted to see it were filled with gratitude.
Battleships and cruisers fired salvos into the Nazi defenses, destroyers steamed offshore battling 88-MM emplaced solidly in the bluff, while smaller vessels sprayed the beach defenses with rockets. Finally, the craft straightened out into waves and headed for Omaha Beach with all the speed and power they could muster. All the companies were in either the fourth or fifth wave of the assault echelon. Soon empty LCVPs passed, returning to the APA. Seeing the empty craft relieved the strain a bit, for then it was known that the first wave had managed at least to disembark. The din of the battle came closer and closer, and to the sides and rear could be seen spouts of water where enemy shells were landing. Looking through the slit in the ramp one could see the smoke, wreckage, and carnage of the beach rapidly coming closer. The staccato rattling was soon recognized as machine gun bullets impacting as the craft threaded their way through the various lanes cleared by the shore engineers, but which were often lined with underwater obstacles and mines. Finally, with a last surge of power and a lurch that sent the unprepared hitting against the bulwarks, the craft grounded, and the ramps flew down spilling men, guns, and equipment on to the hell that was the shore of France. Many say now that it was a good thing most were “green” troops, for many a veteran “froze” that day. The constant drilling at the ATC resulted in doing automatically what was supposed to be done, without stopping to think of what was being faced. Heavy seas and the fact that some craft hung up on underwater obstacles made it impossible to make a dry landing.
The companies landed in the following order :
A Co : H plus 50 minutes
D Co : H plus 50 minutes
B Co : H plus 90 minutes
C Co : H plus 9 hours
The LCT of the forward battalion command group was heavily shelled as it approached the shore. Enemy artillery pierced the starboard side of the craft a midship, killing T/Sgt Cook of HQs Det. and seriously wounding Col James. The engine room was flooded and the rudder hit, leaving the craft with its dead and wounded adrift and floating out to sea. Aided by the current, the boat drifted toward shore and finally at about 1030, beached itself under the protection of a steep cliff, where, under covering fire from the craft, the wounded were transferred to shore. Col James was evacuated to England later that day in a hospital ship. Maj Johnson (then Captain), being the senior officer ashore, took command of the assault echelon until the rear echelon arrived.
A Co, in support of the 2nd Bn, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, landed at Easy Red Beach. Several mortars and carts were carried away by the heavy seas. After a hard struggle, the equipment was rescued and the company remained on the beach the entire morning, subjected to devastating machine gun fire which made it impossible to move. The company commander, Capt Moundres, was severely wounded while making his way through the surf to the beach. 1/Lt James P. Panas, who had already rescued a wounded doughboy from the water, ran back across the beach and, under heavy enemy machine gun, artillery and mortar fire, carried his wounded company commander ashore. Capt Moundres died as a result of his wounds, so Lt Panas, being now the senior officer, took command of the company, reorganized the platoons, and got them safely off the beach into firing positions along the slope of the bluff. For his leadership and gallantry in action, Lt Panas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The only enlisted man lost by A Co on the beach was Pvt Baumgartner who was killed when an enemy artillery shell exploded near him. Pvt Kidwell distinguished himself by retrieving several men being carried away by the rising water, giving them first aid in complete disregard for his personal safety, and in spite of a wound he himself had suffered. Kidwell was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry and self-sacrifice.
After the infantry had broken through the beach defenses, the platoons took up positions by a tank trap in a field about 500 yards in from the beach. The enemy had direct observation on these positions and subjected the company to a severe shelling. B Co’s mission was to land on Dog Green Beach and provide direct support for the 1st Bn, 116-RCT. Because the water obstacles had not been cleared and the beach was under heavy mortar, small arms, and artillery fire, the control boat ordered the wave to land instead on Easy Green, the left flank of Omaha Beach. As the boats were running along parallel to the beach, about 1000 yards offshore, two of the LCVPs were hit and disabled by artillery. Despite an extremely heavy sea and the continual harassing fire from enemy machine guns and other direct-fire weapons, all personnel and equipment were safely transferred to an empty LCT. At approximately 0930 the entire wave was safely beached. Here the company was reorganized and moved inland about 100 yards. At this time only a small section of the beach was held by American troops, and enemy fire was still inflicting heavy casualties. It was not until late in the afternoon that part of the company was able to move to a bluff overlooking the beach and fire its first mission. The first round was fired by Sgt Florio’s squad at 1700 at a machine gun nest in the woods near St Laurent sur Mer. Later in the evening it was found that nine men and two officers were missing; otherwise the company was intact. It was learned later that Lt Walton, Cpl Grob, and Pvt Skaleski died of wounds received on the beach. In order to accomplish its mission, the company was forced to advance through one of the uncleared mine fields found everywhere about the beach. During this move, Pfc Rone was injured by an anti-personnel mine and later died.
The wave containing C Co’s LCVPs bore in towards the beach on schedule, but since the infantry was still pinned down within a few yards of water, the control boat moved them back to sea where they rendezvoused. Another attempt was made at 1000, and still another at 1200, the latter being met by machine gun fire as it reached the beach. As a last measure the wave moved down the beach to the mortar fire. The platoons, separately attached to battalions of the 16-RCT, 1-ID, moved along the beach to their sector and initially set up 200 yards inland. Mines and sniper fire were ever-present dangers and again the medics distinguished themselves when Sgt Freda worked for hours treating and evacuating wounded with complete disregard for his own safety. He was later awarded the Silver Star.
At 0720, D Co’s craft beached on Easy Green in support of the 3rd Bn, 116-RCT, under an incessant hail of machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire. Of necessity the boat teams were landed in water up to their waists, and the precaution that had been taken to attach inflated life belts to the carts proved a wise one. Machine gun bullets ripped into the belts on several of the carts, however, deflating them and causing the carts to sink. Sgt Nicoli, T/4 Savino, Pvt McLaren, and Pvt Porter were wounded while rescuing this equipment and refused medical aid until this was accomplished. These men were justly awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their bravery. The preceding wave of infantry was lying only a few yards from the water, pinned down by the fire raking the beach. Lt Mohrfeld, leader of the 2nd platoon, was hit within a few minutes by machine gun fire and died shortly thereafter. Lt Costello assumed command of the platoon and, knowing that too much longer on the beach was certain death, reorganized the squads and infiltrated them off the beach amidst the heavy fire impacting there. Lt Costello later received the Silver Star for his gallantry. Capt Gaffney, company commander, was instantly killed when the craft in which he was riding struck a mine. Lt Marshall, platoon leader, 1st platoon, took over command. The bravery of the medics in taking care of the wounded under fire was again proven by T/5s White and Marrin.
Number four mortar of the 1st platoon, Sgt Miller’s squad, fired two rounds of HE, from the initial landing place, at a machine gun emplacement 500 yards away. Lt Sabbione directed the fire from the mortar position. Although the target was at too close a range to hit, it is believed that these were the first rounds the battalion fired on the continent of Europe. C Co changed positions three times after the initial landing on Easy Green. One of these movements involved a hand-carry of all equipment across a waist-deep, muddy marsh under fire. At 2200 the company moved northwest along a sea wall 800 yards inland through Les Moulins to St Laurent sur Mer, arriving at 2400. Here the company dug in for the night and concealed its equipment. All the assault vehicles of A Co were landed safely later that day, and those of C and D Cos were also landed with the loss of only one jeep apiece. B Co was unfortunate enough to have one of the vehicle personnel killed and two others and an officer wounded. Only one B Co jeep was landed, although another was later salvaged; all other vehicles were lost. The next day A Co passed through Colleville sur Mer and made slow but certain gains, supporting the infantry whenever called upon. On D plus 3 the company was detached from the 16-RCT, and attached to the 3rd Bn, 9-IR (2-ID). The nights were still cold, strange, and restless; the tension was felt by everyone. The sight of new units passing on the road gave everyone a sense of exhilaration. The trek inland was slow and exhausting. C Co moved through Colleville sur Mer and St Honorine des Pertes, still supporting the 1-ID. This company fired its first rounds on D plus 2 at enemy positions near Fosser Sancy. On D plus 3 the attachment was changed to the 2-ID. At this time, Lt Mann and his platoon accomplished a magnificent feat. Under enemy observation and sniper fire, Lt Mann led his platoon down a steep hill, over an open field, and across a creek, in order to furnish the infantry with the close support it so badly needed. It was necessary to wade the creek and hand-carry all equipment. The doughs were so happy to have the 4.2s that they lent a helping hand and later saw that the platoon was supplied with rations.
By Jun 10 the town of Trévières was finally cleared, after being subjected to a heavy shelling by this company. On Jun 12 an OP party, consisting of Lt Mann, Cpl Roach, and Pfcs Jones and Harris, accompanying an assault company, was pinned down for two hours and then overrun by a strong German counterattack. During this engagement, the popular Lt Mann was killed, Roach and Jones captured, and Harris luckily managed to escape. Two days later, Roach escaped, but Jones remained a prisoner until the allied armies overran Germany. Lt Mann was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously for gallantry in action, leadership, and courage. Jun 14 (D plus 8) found C Co in position near Les Aieres facing Hill 192, when the enemy repulsed an attack by the 2-ID to take the hill.
On Jun 9, B Co, seriously handicapped by the loss of its vehicles, acquired two 6 x 6 trucks from the field artillery. The acquisition of these vehicles solved the immediate transportation difficulties. At the time, B Co was supporting the 5th Ranger Battalion in an attack to clear out the coast fortifications. Elements of the 29-ID attached St Marguerite d’Elle on Jun 12, with preparation fires from B Co in conjunction with the artillery. On Jun 13 the company moved to Couvains and was registered for the first time by an artillery observation plane. By this time, the artillery had come to know and respect the power of the 4.2 mortar, particularly because of the better support it could give the infantry in the hedgerow terrain. After having been reattached to the 116-RCT, B Co assisted in the attack on Bois de Brétel. The attack lasted two days, with the fanatic resistance ending on Jun 14. The company fired a total of 560 rounds of HE and 174 rounds of WP during the course of this operation a record which stood for several weeks.
On the morning of Jun 7, D Co fired its second mission near St Laurent-sur-Mer at a machine gun nest only 800 yards from the gun position. A concentration of HE completely neutralized the installation. The company then moved northwest, cross-country over difficult terrain, subject to intermittent sniper and machine gun fire, and arrived at Vierville-sur-Mer at 1600, where the commanding officer of the 116-RCT (29-ID), assigned it the task of providing security fire. It was here that the company was subjected to one of the heaviest shelling it ever experienced. Several batteries of enemy 150-MM artillery, firing from the vicinity of La Pointe du Hoc, pounded the center of town and the road leading to the beach. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the regimental OP group and on a field artillery battalion coming from the beach. An ammunition dump was blown up, scattering small arms ammunition in all directions. This action caused a withdrawal for the time along the highway. At 0530, Jun 8, D Co aided in the bloody attack on Grandcamp and was credited with another enemy machine gun nest. On Jun 9 the company was relieved from attachment to the 3rd Bn, 116-RCT (29-ID), and attached to the 175-IR (29-ID), making a long road march to join this latter organization at La Fotelaie, beyond Isigny. On Jun 11, D Co caused the withdrawal of advance enemy mechanized units by maintaining intermittent fire on routes of approach. The following day the infantry confirmed the destruction of two machine gun nests by the 4.2s. The second platoon changed position on Jun 14 to cover a bridge crossing and, while registering with WP, burned down fortified houses known to contain machine guns. In clearing the enemy from the beachhead, the companies expended a total of 6,807 rounds of ammunition. Casualties for this period were 11 killed (5 officers and 6 enlisted men), 25 wounded, and 1 captured.
VII. The Battle of the Hedgerows
The long, slow, bloody battle of the hedgerows, which finally brought the infantry to Hill 192 and St Lo, lasted from Jun 14 when the beachhead was secured, to Jul 26 when the attack from Hill 192 to St Lo was launched. By this time the Germans had built up sufficient strength to half V Corps advance for a while. Progress was measured by hedgerows, and this period of fighting was probably the most bitter of the entire European campaign. Counterattacks were heavy, fierce, and numerous in the sectors of all companies between the date of Jun 14 and Jul 26. The units to which some of the companies were attached were confronted with picked paratroop units, but these suffered such extremely heavy casualties from American mortar and artillery fire that one division with two-thirds of its strength casualties, had to be replaced. Since this was essentially a dairy country, many cattle were killed, and in the hot June and July sun the odor soon became almost unbearable. The natives sold cider or a highly volatile brand of poison called “Calvados,” and often provided a check or eggs (albeit unwittingly once or twice). The rear echelon of the battalion embarked in two Liberty ships on Jun 14 from England and dropped anchor about two and a half miles off Omaha Beach the following day. During the night Jerry planes came over and bombed. The AA guns on each ship and from shore installations, put up a tremendous barrage of flak, and fragments falling on the decks sounded like an ominous hailstorm. Contact was established on Jun 16 with the advance of CP, and the rear echelon moved inland near Trévières, where it remained for almost five weeks. Mess and ammo trucks were dispatched to the companies soon after arrival.
Nightly schedules of harassing fire were almost a certainty for A Co during this period. It was here that the phrase, “Who is harassing whom,” was born. Souvenir hunting began about this time, despite the fact that all companies were almost continuously under fire of some sort. During one such barrage, A Co’s Pvt Kaminsky jumped into what he believed to be a foxhole, but which turned out to be a straddle trench, much to his discomfort. This company was often in one position for many days at a time waiting for the infantry to take the stubbornly defended hedgerows being moved forward. Hardly a day passed that HE or WP missions were not fired. On Jun 16, the regimental commander of the 9-IR commended the company commander of A Co for the effectiveness of a smoke screen which the company had laid in support of the crossing of the Droine River. On this date also, the regimental commander of the 116-RCT instructed his battalion commanders to call on the 4.2s as much as possible for close support because they could get twice the fire of the artillery out in the same amount of time.
At the beginning of this period, Jun 16, C Co, while supporting the 2-ID, went into a static position facing Hill 192. This was a long high ridge, held by the Germans, which blocked the allied advance along the all-important St Lô-Bayeux highway. From this hill, the enemy had excellent observation and pounded the troops facing them incessantly with artillery and mortars. Counterattacks in this sector were heavy and fierce during this period and C Co did much to break them up by firing WP and HE. The company was credited with stopping several of these attacks unassisted. During Jun 15 and Jun 16, D Co did considerable effective firing in the vicinity of Moon sur Elle. A series of enemy strong points consisting of a road block, a fortified house, and heavy machine guns south of the town were holding up the advance of the 175th Regimental Combat Team (29th Infantry Division). These positions were so well concealed by the terrain and foliage that the forward observer and his party, in order to observe and pinpoint the fire, took a squad of infantry as security and infiltrated 200 yards ahead of the infantry outpost to within 45 yards of the enemy; they were so close, in fact, that they could hear the enemy talking. After the registration was completed the enemy started throwing hand grenades at the party, so they withdrew to high ground and covered the area with mortar fire. The infantry, taking advantage of this concentrated shelling, moved in as the fire was lifted and succeeded in securing the ground.
D Co had an opportunity to learn the effect of its firing firsthand on Jun 17. An infantry patrol reconnoitering the town of La Meauffe was badly cut up by enemy fire coming from emplacements and buildings near the edge of town. Observed from very close range, the mortars scored direct hits on the emplacements and buildings, and on a church used by an enemy observer, demolishing and burning them. Immediately on cease fire, four of the enemy surrendered, and upon interrogation by the infantry S-3, they stated that the shells landed directly in the emplacements, killing 27 that they saw. The WP had a terrific effect on the morale of the troops, causing them to evacuate the town. On this date, three members of a forward observation party were killed by direct fire from enemy artillery. They were 2/Lt Harris, Cpl Ward, Pvt Knott. 1A orders were received on Jun 17 which listed the 81-CMB as one of the units eligible for unit citation for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in the initial landing on the coast of France.
On Jun 18 and 19, after many days of shuttling and hand-hauling, the companies received the remainder of their vehicles with great cheer. About this time, men began to be sent back to the battalion rear for two-day rests and cleanups. Badly needed replacement officers and men joined the companies at this time. Pvt Sanna (D Co) was killed on Jun 18 when two jeeps carrying up the company’s first batch of mail and a load of ammunition took a wrong turn and ran into a strong enemy party. Both jeeps had to be abandoned, but several Germans were killed and wounded in the fight. To D Co, the name -88 alley- has a particular significance. On Jun 19, while attached to the 175/29-ID, the company moved up to the vicinity of Le Mesnil Roulexin to effect the relief of the 115-RCT which had been cut off by the enemy. The Forward Observer party had left the night before with an infantry patrol, and at 0230, as one platoon moved up with an infantry, the route of approach was shelled incessantly. German dead lined the roads and hedgerows where a bicycle company had been ambushed by the 115-RCT, but before the night ended there were many American dead there also. Miraculously, the mortar men escaped death, but shells were landing so close that several ear drums were broken. A smoke mission was fired from this advanced position, with the infantry moving in under cover of the screen to take the town that day.
On Jun 19, Lt Baker (C Co), Lt Gardner and Lt Fisher (A Co), were wounded by artillery fire while at the observation post – all by one shell burst. Lt Fisher had only joined the company about five hours earlier. B Co, attached to the 29-ID, fired a highly successful smoke mission on Jun 20, west of Couvains, to cover the withdrawal of friendly tanks. The following day a 25-minute concentration from its mortars was credited with stopping a company of enemy infantry attacking up a draw near the gun position. It was confirmed by the infantry that B Company had definitely knocked out an 88-MM and killed over 20 Germans on this day. On Jun 29, the S-3 of the 115-IR to which B Co was attached informed Capt Levy that prisoners had told interrogators they had come to dread the devastating effects of the heavy mortars. The next day the commanding officer of the 175-IR issued instructions that all targets within range of the 4.2s be assigned to them. This decision was promoted by reports from more prisoners taken by the 175-IR regarding the heavy casualties inflicted on their personnel by the heavy mortars, and also by the comparative weakness of artillery in the hedgerow terrain. By now the 3rd Armored Division had opened its drive along the roads leading to St Lo. On being detached from the 29-ID, the commanding officer of B Co was presented with the Bronze Star for the meritorious manner in which his company had carried out the support of the various combat teams of the division.
On Jul 1, D Co was relieved from attachment to the 197-FAB (30-ID), XIX Corps, and left La Fotelaie. It then traveled 32 miles across the front to take up positions near Caumont where it was attached to the 33-FAB (1-ID), V Corps. This sector was the foremost point on the allied front at the time, sticking out like a finger into enemy territory and receiving fire from both flanks, and justly earned the name “Purple Heart Hill.” Despite the defilade, Jerry constantly sought to shell the position with fire from high-angle artillery, mortars, and “screaming meemies.” During one such barrage, T/5 Fix was killed and T/5 White was wounded while attempting to give him first aid. On Jul 4, at exactly 1200, all companies fired one round from each gun as a part of the great “Independence Day Shoot” along the whole front. D Co also celebrated the Fourth of July by knocking out an entire platoon of German mortars. That night at the Caumont “hot spot,” D Co’s sector was subjected to a strong counterattack, preceded by an artillery, mortar, and Nebelwerfer preparation. The “Fighting First,” supported by the 4.2s and other weapons, managed to beat Jerry off, despite the terrible shelling. Thanks to deep foxholes and overhead cover the casualties were few.
By Jul 7, most of the companies had made a big advance in centralizing control of their firing through the use of fire direction centers. A Co’s FDC was almost put out of existence several days later when a direct hit was made on the dugout it was occupying, closing up the entrance and scattering equipment and personnel. Several casualties were inflicted on the company at this time. The great attack on Hill 192, the gateway to St Lo, was begun by the 2-ID on Jul 11. The mortars of this battalion pounded the hill and adjacent environs with a total of 4,832 rounds. C Co alone pumped out 3,195 rounds in 14 hours and A Co fired more than 500 rounds. Intelligence later reported that WP concentrations were so heavy that the enemy was forced to don their gas masks for protection against the acrid smoke.
C Co began firing at 0540 and fired almost continuously throughout the day. Probably the outstanding achievement was the smoke screen laid to prevent German observation on the important village of St Georges d’Elle. The screen, maintained for almost the entire day, was considered by those who observed it to be a model for the offensive employment of a smoke screen. HE, used to blast strong points and enemy personnel, did a magnificent job in keeping the enemy from forming for counterattacks. Considerable counter-battery fire was received in the mortar position during the operation. The 19-FAB (5-ID), relieved the 33-FAB (1-ID), on Jul 13 at Caumont, but D Co remained at the hot spot in support of this new unit, which had never been committed. The following day, Pfc Hoerter was seriously wounded and T/5 Topley and Pvt Jelush were wounded slightly on Purple Heart Hill. Several direct hits on the dugouts used as an OP buried Lt Costello, Cpl New, and Pvt Ramirez under a mass of logs, sandbags, and debris. All miraculously escaped injury. This company left Caumont on Jul 22 and took up positions at Cormolain, attached to the 50-FAB (5-ID), where it fired several missions in the vicinity of La Vacquerie and burned down the town of Bieville (Le Guillois), an enemy strong point. It was remained there until Jul 26, when the British took over that sector.
Many observers raved about their “dream shots.” Capt Panas often talked about his, which occurred while registering on a typical red-roofed Normandy farmhouse, on the south side of St Lô road, during Jul 24. The A Co commander placed a shell on the roof of the house, and to check the lay of the guns, fired another round. The second round went through the hole in the roof made by the previous shell, and exploded inside! On Jul 25, all in the vicinity watched in amazement the all-out bombing of St Lô, as wave after wave of allied bombers pounded the city for hours. Then came the long-awaited breakthrough at St Lô, just to C Co’s right flank. The next day, Jul 26, the 2-ID jumped off from Hill 192, with the 4.2s closely following, firing at every opportunity.
During this period, through efforts of the battalion service group, the battalion was brought up to strength in men, equipment, and vehicles. Although M-6 propellant was critical, the companies were kept well supplied. The great amount of breakage of motor parts did not seriously interfere with the firing, because of the rapidity of repair and replacement of these needed parts by headquarters service personnel. The battalion fired a total of 26,874 rounds by the close of this period. The Silver Star for gallantry in action on D-Day was awarded during this period to the following named officers and enlisted men :
Capt W. Johnson, Bn Hq
Lt Christopher H. Costello, D Co
T/4 Charles R. Dykens, A Co
Cpl Raymond D. Little, A Co
Pfc Hoyt D. Anderson, A Co
T/5 Kenneth L. White, Med Det
The Bronze Star to :
Lt James P. Panas, A Co
Lt John F. Riddle, Bn Hq
for meritorious achievement on D-Day.
VIII. The St Lo Breakthrough
After the five-hour bombardment on Jul 2, A Co was given a schedule of fire to support the infantry attack the next morning. H-Hour was to be at 0600, and this company was to be part of the left flank of the main effort, attached to the 38-IR (2-ID). The specific orders were to break through and advance regardless of losses. Closely coordinating with the artillery, the company furnished very close support to the infantry. A smoke screen was laid for the initial advance, supporting screens furnished throughout the day, and harassing missions fired at enemy OPs and mortar positions. Approximately 600 rounds were fired that day. This was one day that A Co received more than it gave. As the day slowly passed by, and shells kept coming in, it was realized that the enemy had been saving its ammunition for just such an attack. Both the OP party and the communications section suffered casualties that day. The attack was a great success and a series of short, hard-won advances followed. Passing over Hill 192, the company crossed the shell-pocked St Lo road and sought the safety of deep German foxholes, there to sweat out the Luftwaffe. “Bed Check Charlie” came over every night. Gains were now measured by two or three hedgerows an hour instead of two or three per day, but the hedgerows were becoming fewer and smaller. On Jul 27, A Co entered Saint-Jean-des-Baisants, a town utterly destroyed by artillery and mortar shells. Leaving by a sunken road which had been a previous target for the company, it came upon the body of a dead German. Beside him lay the base of an exploded WP shell, fired at a range of 4,200 yards. The instrument corporal was ordered to remove this road block since the accuracy of his calculations was held responsible for it. It was here that Gen Hayes, Artillery Commander of the 2-ID, remarked on the accuracy of the 4.2s, as he had observed the first round of adjustment hit the rump of a horse; the target having been a convoy of horse-drawn wagons.
Following the St Lô breakthrough and the capture of the city, all troops continued to advance and exploit the break to its fullest extent. The Vire River was the next objective, and beyond that the southern border of Normandy. The going was tough and treacherous, for the enemy took the utmost advantage of every hill and hedgerow. It was “good mortar country,” and well-defiladed positions could usually be found. The pace became faster and more prisoners began to come in than ever before. Enemy artillery and mortar fire was fierce, and bombings were more frequent. During this period, the companies had an opportunity to enjoy a few days rest, the first they had had since D-Day. CWO Bundy, (Hq Det), and S/Sgt Rush, (A Co), received orders awarding them battlefield appointments as second lieutenants, on Jul 29. B Co moved forward almost every day from Jul 26 to Aug 5, sometimes two or three times a day. There was no let-up in enemy resistance and on two occasions the company narrowly missed having numerous casualties. On Jul 27, near Planches, and again on the 29th, near Rouxeville, two shells from a German “170” landed in the mortar position, but failed to explode. At this time, night air attacks were more frequent than ever before, and parachute flares continuously illuminated the battle areas. The first night after leaving Hill 192 a bomb fell in the C Co area, wounding Cpl Conroy, instrument corporal. The next night another fell in the FDC area, within 10 feet of the men in their holes; it harmed no one but set a jeep afire, and small arms ammunition exploded all over the area. At this time, C Co shelled and burned the town of St Jean des Baisants. It was then attached to the 35-ID on the right flank just south of St Lo. On Jul 30, the company moved with the infantry into the town of Condé-sur-Vire, where several startling incidents occurred in the space of a few hours.
The mortar position, of necessity on a forward slope to the left of town, was continuously subjected to grazing rifle and machine gun fire coming from the adjacent hill. Cpl Emersons bald head made a particularly good target, especially when he removed his helmet and bent over his aiming circle to lay in the guns. Jerry began to snipe, and at every “ping” of a passing slug, Emerson knocked the aiming circle off a few mils. By the time he finished, the guns were close to firing on a back azimuth. Then things really began to happen. A German AT gun opened up, hit a jeep, then turned on the 2 1/2 ton ammo truck and slammed an AP shell through the motor. The truck, loaded with 150 HE and 150 WP shells, caught fire, the WP going off in bursts of two or three rounds at once. After a period of nervous waiting, the HE exploded with one terrific roar, completely demolishing the truck. Pfc Burgess, headquarters driver, walked several hundred yards into town where he picked up a piece of his steering wheel, all he could find of the truck to turn in for salvage. It is significant that despite these harassing incidents, the company fired a smoke mission screening the next town. No one was injured by the explosion of the ammo truck, but two men were wounded by the small arms fire. The same day, S/Sgt Toole received a battlefield commission as second lieutenant for outstanding leadership under combat conditions.
D Co remained in position near Cormolain until Jul 29, in support of the 50-FAB (5-ID). During this period, the company knocked out a machine gun nest and destroyed an enemy OP in a church tower, which an air mission was unable to accomplish. It also furnished several successful smoke screens; one in particular prevented observation of German artillery which was inflicting heavy casualties. Another was fired in support of an attack by assault troops. The company was highly commended for this work by Lt Col Calhoun, CO 50-FAB. On Jul 28, another honor came to D Co when S/Sgt Weaver received a battlefield commission as second lieutenant. While attached to the 10-IR (5-ID), (Jul 30), the company silenced a machine gun nest and helped to break up an enemy counterattack, which was severely punishing and driving back our infantry. No support was obtainable from the artillery on this operation because of the nature of the terrain. B Co, moved into an assembly area on Jul 31, in which it came under one of the heaviest enemy shellings since D-Day, for while moving out of the area a very heavy concentration was laid in. A sunken road with its high, banked hedgerows provided adequate protection and no one was injured. The front lines were advancing so rapidly at this time that B Co was seldom in one position for more than a few hours at a time. Still on Jul 31, C Co demolished and set fire to the town of Torigny-sur-Vire, where the enemy was offering stubborn resistance. Those that saw the town afterward will bear witness that the job was thoroughly done. The path of advance was lined with dead animals, horses, cows, sheep and hogs, offering mute evidence of allied artillery and air bombardment.
It was during the next day that a C Co jeep struck a Teller mine. 1/Sgt Radakovitz, T/5 Croak, and Pvt Winston were killed, and Pvt Arnold injured. The death of these men, all well liked in the company, was a great loss. 1/Sgt Radakovitz was truly loved by the men; his leadership and advice will never be forgotten by those who served with him. Moving just north of Torigny, A Co approached Vire and on Aug 4 fired one of its most successful missions. Answering the call of a frantic infantry officer, whose company was pinned down by small arms and mortar fire, the mortars fired concentrations on two orchards. Shortly after, the infantry commander reported the enemy completely routed, and his men had taken the position without firing a shot. Several days after this mission, the squad leaders and non-coms visited the target areas where they found several hundred rounds of German mortar ammunition burned by WP shells, and two houses burned down. Direct hits had been obtained on mortar position. Food set out ready for a meal and line of mess kits lying on the ground, indicated a hasty departure. Evidently the job had been well done. The advance continued. The Vire River was crossed. It was here that the infantry reported to C Co that the bursting WP shells had sent hundreds of Germans screaming into the river to ease their burning flesh where particles of flaming phosphorous had struck them.
During the first few days of Aug, D Co moved on to Le Breuil, and thence on to Le Perron, near Lamberville, where it was attached to the 23-IR (2-ID). The company harassed an enemy armored column and mortar park near Le Mesnil Reine on Aug 4. Oil and gasoline fire could be seen sending huge clouds of dense smoke into the air. Following the breakthrough at St Lô, the rear CP moved on to Bérigny, and then to Vieux Calnes. Near St Martin Don, the companies assembled on Aug 5 and 6 in a battalion assembly area after having been relieved by V Corps. A, B and D Cos had been attached to the 2-ID, while C Co was supporting the 35-ID. This ended the battalions first 60 days operation against the enemy and comprised the first formal rest period it had enjoyed since D-Day. The move to this assembly area represented an advance of 60 kilometers. During this short breathing spell, Aug 5 to 12, a thorough inspection of all equipment was accomplished, repairs made, and replacement parts obtained. About this time, the Stars and Stripes announced the units which had been awarded the presidential citation by reason of their extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action. The battalion can be justly proud of the fact that the 81st Chemical Battalion was among those cited. A copy of the citation is given below :
GENERAL ORDERS No. 73 – WAR DEPARTMENT
Washington 25, D.C. – September 1944
As authorized by Executive Order No. 9396 (sec. I, Bull. 22, ED, 1943), superseding Executive Order No. 9075 (sec. III, Bull. II, WD, 1942), citation of the following unit in General Orders No. 40, Hqs 1-ID, 17 July 1944, as approved by the Commanding General, United States Army forces in the European Theater of Operations, is confirmed under the provisions of Section IV, Circular No. 333, War Department, 1943, in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follows :
The 81st Chemical Battalion, Motorized, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action. In the invasion of France, the mission of the 81st Chemical Battalion was to furnish close mortar support for the two leading assault regiments. In the accomplishment of this mission, the 81st Chemical Battalion landed at H 60 minutes on D-Day, at which time the beach and harbors were under incessant machine gun, artillery, rocket, and mortar fire from the enemy. Underwater and beach obstacles were encountered as the landing craft approached the shore and in the advance from the landing craft to the beach. When two LCVPs in which part of the battalion was landing sank from enemy shell hits, the men of the 81st Chemical Battalion transferred their mortars, ammunition, and equipment from their own landing craft to an LCM, and under constant shelling managed to land the equipment. In another instance, when their landing craft sank, the men, by their fierce persistence in the face of great odds, swam ashore, towing with them two mortars and two mortar carts which previously had been made buoyant by life preservers. Though numerous casualties were suffered, men of the 81st Chemical Battalion were not deterred from the accomplishment of their mission, and upon reaching shore with the loss of only one mortar, continued in support of the infantry for twelve days without relief. Such heroism and gallantry, in the face of tremendous odds and unusual and hazardous conditions, are in keeping with the traditions of the service and deserving of the highest praise.
Beginning on Aug 9, the companies moved out of the assembly area just south of the Vire River and once more engaged the enemy. The following day the rear echelon rejoined the 2-ID CP. B Co was again on the line on Aug 9, attached to the 9-IR (2-ID). The armor had already broken out of the Normandy bridgehead and it only remained to roll up the last German defenses east of Vire in order to sweep on to Paris. During the first three days of these attacks, B Co kept pace with the infantry and was credited in one mission, fired late in the evening of Aug 11, with having knocked out two enemy tanks, killed or caused the surrender of a large number of the enemy, and with having forestalled a large-scale counterattack in the process of forming. C Co also moved out on Aug 10 to the south in the general direction of Vire. More rugged fighting took place, many missions were fired, and several small towns set on fire. Cpl Morrison received shrapnel wounds during this period, which later led to his death. In one position near Truttermer-le-Grand, the infantry failed to push off on schedule and the company, not knowing of this delay, displaced forward, in accordance with prearranged plans, to a previously reconnoitered position. The enemy, having either spotted the position, or, while firing at a nearby road, shelled the company continuously. Many men were hit and Pfc Kelly later died of wounds received at this time.
D Co moved out on Aug 12, attached to their old friends the 175-IR (29-ID). When the company joined this outfit at Les Hauts Vents it was shocked to find very few of the old officers of this regiment left. During the trip, the company passed through Vire and marveled at the damage done by air and artillery bombardment. The town was literally pulverized and still burning. The roads leading to the assembly area, near St Sauveur, were littered with enemy dead, vehicles, armor, dead horses, and broken material. A Co also was attached to the 175-IR on Aug 12. This company made mad rushes throughout Vire by day and night. T/5 Tiberio had a dreaded experience when he jumped into a foxhole seeking protection against an enemy artillery barrage. Before he could get settled, another soldier who had the same idea jumped in on top of him. This one was a German, but had sense enough to surrender without a fight. B Co had an unfortunate incident occur while attached to the 38-IR (2-ID). On Aug 13, early in the morning, the kitchen jeep, hauling up breakfast and mail, was lost. The mess personnel had taken a wrong turn, found themselves in enemy territory, and were forced to abandon the vehicle.
8 POWs were taken by D Co on Aug 13 and 14. In order to find a position from which to adequately support the infantry, the reconnaissance party, consisting of an officer and two men, had to travel along four miles of secondary roads over which no American troops had passed and no mines had been cleared. They arrived at the town of Le Pont de Vère and found they were the first Americans there. The Germans had just left, leaving thousands of dollars worth of supplies and equipment. So the town of Le Pont de Vère and much booty was captured intact by three Americans. This same day, a 9-AF P-38 pilot reached the company CP at St Sauveur, after four days behind enemy lines. Though not wounded, the officer was shaken quite a bit. Three more prisoners were taken that day in one of the mortar positions. During a reconnaissance near St Sauveur on Aug 15, Lt Weaver captured 7 more prisoners. About this time, the town of Tinchebray was heavily shelled by the mortars of C Co. Enemy resistance was collapsing all along the line. The Battle of the Breakthrough had been won. The rat race was on, and was gaining momentum every day. The companies were again relieved from the front line on Aug 16 and 17 and the battalion assembled in the vicinity of Ger. Up to this time, the battalion had expended 31,352 rounds of ammunition. Until Aug 19, the battalion enjoyed another well-earned rest. Although someone once said a rest period was merely a preparation for the next operation, the chance to clean up and see a USO show featuring lovely Dinah Shore, certainly skyrocketed morale above its usual excellent.
Dina Shore – USO Tour during World War Two
A Rose for Dina because we miss her beautiful voice
Dinah Shore, (1917-1994) and her version of the song “Dixie”. If Shore had been singing this song during the Civil War, it would have really given the South a better chance. She recorded this with Morris Stoloff and His Orchestra on October 11, 1946
IX. The March to Paris
By Aug 20, Gen Patton’s 3A had broken through the German defense line of southern Normandy, near Avranches. Several spearheads drove out fanwise into Brittany, to the south toward Rennes and the Loire River, and in a half-circle to the southeast, swinging back up towards the towns of Falaise and Mortain. Elements of the 1A, including the 81st Chemical Battalion, took part in the forming of the lower half of the great Falaise trap where the German 7. Armee was encircled. The battalion traveled some 180 miles to reach these positions. The battalion left Ger on Aug 20, following this spearhead of the 3A, and assembled at La Ferrière-Béchet, near Sées, preparatory to committing the companies to the southern part of the trap. V Corps attached two companies to the 80-ID and two companies to the 90-ID for this mission. Since the prisoners were coming in at such a terrific rate, A and C Cos did not fire for fear that it might deter the Jerries from continuing to surrender. A Co at this time was in an assembly area near Argentan, and C Co had their mortars set up south of Chambois. D Co took up firing positions at Le Bourg Saint Léonard in support of the 358-IR (90-ID), and harassed pockets of enemy holding out in the vicinity of Montmilcent, as well as roads and wooded areas adjacent to it.
Columns of prisoners miles long, men marching three and four abreast, came in from all directions out of “Death Valley.” The trap had finally been closed completely by the Free Poles of the Canadian First Army. All the German equipment lay scattered in the fields and roads. It had been an artilleryman’s paradise. Hundreds upon hundreds of enemy tanks, half-tracks, and wagons were burned out or abandoned. The Germans had been trapped in a huge natural bowl, its outer fringe of hills controlled by our infantry. Artillery observers poured withering fire on the slightest movement. There was nothing left for the Germans to do except surrender or die. The overall results of this action completely eliminated the German 7. Armee as a fighting organization. Souvenir collecting was engaged in by one and all. Practically every infantry doughboy had a belt full of Lugers P-08 and Walther P-38s. The mortar men did all right too. The men also had a chance to view our allies, for here, jammed upon the main north to south highway, was armor and equipment belonging not only to the US Army but to the British, French, Canadians, Poles and even the Free Dutch. German casualties in this great envelopment were estimated at 400,000 men. Fourteen divisions had been destroyed, and part of the German 15. Armee as well.
American troops had crossed the Seine River above Paris by August 23. Then the 2nd French Armored Division, under Gen Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, and the 4-ID reached Paris on Aug 25. The FFI had already cleared up most of the city, but it was not officially liberated until Aug 27. After “the pocket,” the battalion assembled in the vicinity of Sées for rest and recuperation, and on Aug 25 moved out in battalion convoy to join the rat race to Paris. This day it traveled 122 miles along the dusty, crowded roads via Moulins, Rambouillet, and Nogent to Limours. On the following day, the battalion moved on to the little town of Bièvres, near Paris, and bivouacked near an airstrip there. All along the route of march, evidence of gratitude, welcome, and good will prevailed among the French people. Over-enthusiastic celebrants hurled fruit and flowers at the passing column, and many times ripe tomatoes and hard pears and apples left marks on a man. This seemed to afford quite a bit of amusement to the natives. During this period, 1/Sgt John D. Clancy was appointed Warrant Officer Junior Grade, filling a vacancy which had existed since CWO Bundy had been appointed second lieutenant. Considerable enemy air activity took place on the night of Aug 26 in the vicinity of Paris, putting an abrupt end to the celebration taking place in Bièvres. The battalion had been tactically attached to the 4-ID on the Aug 26. On the morning of the 27, the day of Paris’ liberation, B Co, attached to the 22-IR (4-ID), moved in motor convoy through Paris. On Aug 28, near Aulnay-sous-Bois, the company killed 10 Germans and wounded 15, wiping out an artillery FO party and destroying an enemy half-track. That same morning, A Co, attached to the 8-IR (4-ID), passed through the Vincennes section of Paris.
C and D Cos remained at Bièvres until Aug 29 and then were attached C Co to the 110-IR (28-ID) and D Co to the 112-IR (28-ID), our old friends of maneuvers in the US. The companies rendezvoused that morning in the Bois-de-Boulogne and prepared to take part in the official march of the US Forces through Paris, although the 4-ID, with A and B Cos attached, had preceded them by two days. The two companies moved out, passing the 2nd French Armored Division (who, we must admit, were to be envied for the delightful companions they had in their tanks and pup tents) and into the Avenue de la Grande Armée, where the vehicles formed four lanes, five yards apart. The parade turned into the Champs Elysées, past the Arc de Triomphe, and through the Place de la Concorde where were Generals Bradley, Hodges, De Gaulle, and Koenig. It is for each man to remember the fervor of the welcome received in Paris, for it was tremendous. Millions of people jammed the sidewalks and crowded towards the vehicles. The hilarious crowds, held in place by the FFI, broke through many times and mobbed the vehicles in a mad frenzy of kissing, handshaking, back-slapping, and the presentation of gifts of flowers, wine, fruit and food. Ah, those Parisians! There is truly no people in the world like them. It is impossible to record here all the bright pageantry of the days of Paris’ liberation. The official records report no casualties those three days, but every hand was sore from shaking, and every face bore the red badge of the liberator lipstick. Parisian women were strikingly beautiful with their colorful clothing, high hairdos, and gaiety. To see the happiness and gratitude in the faces of these people made all the weary weeks of fighting seem suddenly worthwhile.
By Aug 29, after two days of firing, which helped to clear the last Germans from the city, B Co was already moving on the roads that were to lead in less than a month to the Siegfried Line. A Co crossed the Seine over the Pont d’Austerliz on Aug 27 on its way to Germany. C and D Cos set up on the night of the great parade in the outskirts of Paris. C Co bivouacked in an abandoned race track and many of the men were allowed to spend the evening in the city. D Co set up its mortars in Le Bourget, where snipers were still active. To them, Paris was so near and yet so far. The next morning found both companies on the road again, moving with the 28-ID and once more hot on the trail of the fleeing Germans. In driving the enemy from the coast of Normandy and across northern France, the mortars had expended a total of 31,949 rounds.
X. On to the Siegfried Line
This was a battle for the roads, a period of vigorous pursuit and wide open warfare, with many divisions acting on their own. Highways were jammed with convoys of troops moving after the enemy as fast as transport could carry them. It was characterized by long road marches and occasional short, sharp encounters with enemy pockets of resistance. Jerry, with his armies in France destroyed, passed up ideal defensive positions, selling space for time in order to get to his prepared positions in the Siegfried Line. This was the time of the Big Sweep, as the British Second Army, the American First, Third and Seventh Armies, raced across France and Belgium on a 500-mile front. The US 1A drove from Laon to Mons and Sedan during the first few days of September, reached the Meuse River and held it by Sep 6 from Namur to Sedan.
By Sep 11, Luxembourg had been liberated and the German frontier crossed. During the sweep, A and B Cos were attached to the 4th Infantry Division, C and D, to the 28th Infantry Division, with whom they remained until the end of this period. These two divisions and their attachments were two of the several fingers that were thrust across France and Belgium to the Siegfried Line.
The first brush with the retreating enemy took place in Compiègne (Forest), famous for being the place where the Armistice was signed during World War I, and where Hitler did his famous jig after bringing France to her knees in the early stages of this war. The renowned railroad car was gone, taken to Germany by the vandals. A Co received some artillery fire when it came on to a hill overlooking the forest, but pulled back quickly a few hundred yards to a defensive position from which it fired harassing fire on a crossroad. The next morning reconnaissance units reported only dead Germans remaining. After passing through Le Bourget airport, Louvres, Vémars, Pontarmé, Chaumont, Villeneuve sur Verberie, Merciere aux Bois many times just an hour or two after the enemy D Co also arrived at the Compiègne Forest on Sep 1. On the way many jeep tires were punctured due to nails having been strewn over the roads by the FFI to delay the retreating Germans. Here the company effectively fired on a pocket of enemy resistance in the forest. One platoon crossed the Oise River on pontoon rafts and fired a harassing mission.
B Co was attached to combat team Taylor, which spearheaded the 4-ID drive to the Belgian border. The combat team was composed of the 22-IR, 4-ID, elements of the 5-AD, 801-TDB, and B Co 81-CB. After traveling over a hundred miles in two days, encountering only negligible resistance, a small enemy force attacked the convoy near L’Arbre de Guise on Sep 1, where the company was bivouacked for the night. Enemy rifle and machine gun fire came into the area from Soulet, a little town about 50 yards from the company area, where the enemy had been successful in capturing two American half-tracks. These were retaken after a short battle. A little later that night an enemy tank attempted to penetrate the mortar bivouac area, but was engaged and driven off by the TDs.
C Co took part in the 110-mile drive to St Quentin with the 110-IR, 28-ID, liberating the towns of Luzarches, Estrées, and Ham on the way. A German self-propelled gun firing only a few rounds into the position, near Pont St Maxence, was the only resistance encountered until after St Quentin was liberated on Sep 2. The whole town turned out in the typical French greeting. The battalion rear echelon rolled through Paris on Sep 1, northeast towards Soissons, making stops at Longperrier, Ermemonville, and Haramont. From Sep 2 until Sep 5, A Co remained in the vicinity of Mesnil St Laurent and Neuvil St Armand. The beautiful Meuse River, located deep in a cultivated valley, was reached on Sep 5. This country was in sharp contrast to the northern plain of France on which the company had been traveling. The night of Sep 3 was an active one for B Co. An enemy patrol infiltrated near its position but was engaged and driven off by the company’s local security. The following day the company was attached to the 12-IR (4-ID) and remained with it until relieved from the 1A on Sep 18. The enemy resistance, while still light, had managed to slow the speed of the advance to 10 or 15 miles a day.
Starting Sep 5, C Co backtracked to the south, then east, and finally north again to arrive at a point somewhat east of St Quentin. The company passed through towns made important by battles of the last war, but which were taken in just a few days this time. The route went through Ham, Noyon, Compiègne, Soissons, a total of 130 miles. D Co drove through La Fère on Sep 2, past crowds of overjoyed, liberated people. The next few days the company passed through Bray, Lepron les Valées, and St Menges, finally reaching the Belgian border at Muno on Sep 7. Near Rossingnel, on Sep 9, the company fired on an enemy troop column, inflicting many casualties and causing it to take off for the woods. This same day the company arrived at Heinstert and on the following day crossed the Luxembourg border near the town of Surre. By Sep 9, the rear echelon group was in Belgium, having passed through Laon, Rozoy, Etion in France, down into Sedan and over to Paliseul, Belgium. During the rapid advance across France, the army supply services performed as brilliantly as the combat troops, doing three months work in one. In gasoline alone, allied armies were consuming over one million gallons daily. Fuel was brought forward by a 700-mile pipeline, then trucked and flown by C-47s to the forward area. Long trips were made to the rear by our battalion service groups to bring up badly needed mortar and ordnance equipment.
In A Co’s sector, the platoons moved forward in separate, parallel thrusts through a fluid front. At one time, a German armored car pulled out of a side road into the company’s column. It was greeted with a storm of lead from tommy guns, pistols, carbines and M1s, and wisely beat a hasty retreat. Probably the most courageous, and certainly the most decorated individual in the battalion, was Capt James P. Panas, A Co CO. While driving in a jeep with Cpl Raub and T/5 Anselme on Sep 6 to locate part of the company, Capt Panas ran into enemy troops in the town of Vresse. The party managed to get out of town, firing as they did so, definitely killing one German and wounding several others, but encountered two enemy tanks blocking the road at a sharp curve. With no alternative, they abandoned the vehicle. When fired upon, Capt Panas ordered the two men to disperse, which they did, escaping to a nearby wood; Cpl Raub returned later to send a radio message. The two men were assisted during the night by Belgian patriots and were rescued the next morning by a reconnaissance unit. Capt Panas fought to the end, firing all his ammunition at the enemy before being killed. His body was recovered the next day near Vresse. He had taken a stand behind a building and the Germans had apparently used tanks in destroying the building. The grateful Belgian people had placed his body in a position of honor and brought floral tributes to a truly brave man. Lt Watts then assumed command of the company. At St Hubert on Sep 8, B Co received another memorable welcome. At the invitation of the Belgian civilians most of the company spent the night in houses where entertainment was provided in honor of the first American troops to enter the town.
C Co’s mortar march continued, passing just south of Sedan, entering Belgium on Sep 8. On Sep 10, Lt Sippel and his reconnaissance party ran into machine gun fire and Lt Sippel was seriously wounded. The route swung north through Arlon towards Bastogne, but due to a blown bridge the march was reversed and the column swung back through Arlon and into the city of Luxembourg on the night of Sep 11. A huge crowd welcomed them to the city, but as usual the column did not tarry long. Here the company guarded Radio Luxembourg, the most powerful transmitter in Europe. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which D Co entered on Sep 10, was a beautiful little country with wooded, rolling hills and fields, here and there an ancient castle, and clean, picturesque little towns. People were well-dressed, well-educated, and enthusiastic about their liberation from the Boches. And besides that, they had good beer ! The company moved from Heinstert to Wilwerdange to Holler, arriving there on Sep 11. From here, Germany could be seen, but it was to be two days before D Co would set foot on German soil. To D Co goes the honor of being the first company of the 81-CMB to reach German soil and to fire from it.
On Sep 13 at 0100, Capt Marshall and Lt Costello crossed the Our River into Germany on a reconnaissance, and so became the first members of the battalion to set foot on “Der Vaterland.” The 2nd plat left Weiswampach at 0530 and moved into position at 0600, near Peterskirche, in support of the 1st Bn, 109-IR. The 1st plat left Clervaux at 0630 and moved into position near Sevenig at 0700 in support of the 2nd Bn. The FPC set up in a pillbox between the two platoons at 1000.
At 0815, D Co fired its first mission from German soil. It is believed that this was the first American heavy weapons fired in Germany, since the infantry 81s had not been set up yet, and the artillery was across the valley still in Luxembourg. The targets were enemy troops which were dispersed. After the long road marches with little firing, targets were now plentiful. Later that day, an open gun emplacement was knocked out, an anti-tank gun silenced, and a troop concentration broken up with many casualties to the enemy. The mortar business was picking up !
A Co arrived in Germany the same day at 1800, entering the little town of Ihren. The people stood in sullen little groups, staring, while an occasional unguarded child waved. The 4-ID, to which A Co was attached, was facing a comparatively weak section of the Siegfried Line only two kilometers in depth. The country consisted of rolling plains, largely barren of growth, and poor for defense. It was through this section that the German blitz gained momentum to roll through France in 1940, and here also, where later, the famous Ardennes offensive broke through in December 1944.
The German border was crossed by B Co at 1313 on Sep 13. The enemy resistance stiffened quite suddenly late in the afternoon when German artillery in the Siegfried Line began to shell the surrounding roads.
C Co moved north through Bastogne and then east through part of Luxembourg to cross the Our River into Germany on Sep 15. As if to forecast the coming events, the weather, which had been reasonably warm and dry in France, now turned cold with continuous rain. The company initially set up its guns in the small town of Heckhusheid and commenced the heaviest firing since Normandy against the mighty Siegfried Line. Here heavy artillery and mortar counter-battery fire was received, the heaviest since the hedgerows. By Sep 12, the battalion rear command post had moved to a bivouac area one mile south of Bastogne. The forward CP group, consisting of the battalion commander, S-2 and S-3 sections, had been moving with the V Corps CP. Much credit is due to the service troops of this organization who traveled miles over stretched supply lines to bring up vital rations, ammunition, and mortar parts during this period.
The 4-ID, with A and B Cos attached, wasted no time in attacking the Siegfried Line. It was attacked and breached on Sep 14 with the 4.2s of A Co giving close support from the town of Buchet. Infantry reported several direct hits on pillboxes being assaulted and were highly complimentary in praising the effectiveness of HE shells. In view of the successful initial penetration, the enemy expected a major breakthrough attempt and so threw many fierce counterattacks, massed many big guns, and threw terrific artillery concentrations at the attacking Americans. Several casualties were suffered when mortar shells landed in A Co’s position. Many times the boom of the guns could be heard, firing from the vicinity of Prüm. A Co fired continuously from a sea of mud for the next few days. Missions consisted of burning the three small towns of Hontheim, Sellerich, and Herscheid. Close support was given to the attack on Brandscheid, a strongpoint of the Siegfried Line in this sector. Change of targets and constant calls on the mortars by the infantry sometimes involved a back azimuth, or complete shifting about of mortars. In one harassing mission, A Co was given credit with wiping out half a company of enemy infantry located in a road cut. B Co went into position southeast of Habscheid on Sep 14 for its first set-up in Germany. The next day German infantry halted the 4-ID’s advance in this sector just beyond the first line of steel and concrete bunkers. While on the road moving up, B Co’s column was shelled by German artillery, but most of the rounds fell short, driving several of the enemy out of hiding and forcing the company to dismount for a time and act as infantry. Later that day, T/5 Sklarew, Pvt Solik and Pvt Dobbins, searching for souvenirs, captured 65 prisoners in an enemy bunker that they had thought was deserted.
On Sep 16, the enemy was still being engaged by our infantry in the woods a few hundred yards from B Co’s position. Enemy artillery fire was heavy during the day and the infantry suffered heavy casualties. Pvt Long was slightly wounded while with the Forward Observers party that day. On the following day, Lt Robert Wuller, Forward Observer, rescued a wounded infantryman in spite of heavy enemy fire, for which he was later awarded the Silver Star. In the sector where C and D Cos were located, firing continued almost unabated as the 29th Infantry Division slammed itself into the cement and steel of the German defense line. Both companies received much credit for the work done in this operation, but no one will forget the sacrifices of the dough boys of the 28-ID as they attempted to breach the line.
From Sep 13 to 19, D Co remained in position on the Siegfried Line, firing night and day in support of the battered 28-ID. Between 150 and 400 rounds were fired every day, mostly at unobserved targets. On the very first day the company fired on the town of Roscheid, destroying 24 enemy personnel and a small ammo dump. The mortars were called on more and more as the infantry learned of their accuracy and effectiveness. Here the fighting was as fierce as the hedgerows, with the added advantage to the enemy of having prepared positions and strategically placed pillboxes with walls and roofs of steel-reinforced concrete six to 10 feet thick. A smoke screen 1,100 yards wide was fired on Sep 14 to prevent observation from a row of pillboxes; for this effective screen the company received the praise of the 109-ID CO. Requests came in all day from the mortar observers and also from the rifle companies for specific missions. Steady streams of POWs could be seen coming in, but resistance was still fierce. Rain impeded the much-needed support of air and armor. On Sep 15, the 109-IR credited the 4.2s with one enemy mortar, several machine gun nests, and another ammunition dump. Three enemy OPs were destroyed as well as most of the personnel. The mortars saved one infantry platoon pinned down by machine gun fire, by firing a covering smoke screen while they withdrew. All during this period, the Germans shelled in an effort to find the mortars that were raising so much havoc with them. The assistant division commander of the 28-ID visited the mortar positions personally to commend the company for its fine support. The firing continued unabated. One of the most outstanding missions was completed on Sep 16 when the company burned down the town of Roscheid, for many days a strong point and supply base for the enemy. The glare of the fire was seen miles away in Luxembourg by the company on returning from a trip to the company rear. The next day another anti-tank gun was destroyed and several enemy tanks burned with WP. The observation post, always a hot spot, received several direct hits from “big stuff.” Lt Weaver and Cpl Aaronson brought wounded dough boys in under cover during this barrage. The commanding officer of the 2/109-IR, was rescued by the company’s fire on Sep 18 when pinned down by fire from enemy automatic weapons. This proved the 4.2 an effective weapon as far as this officer was concerned.
– Many strange things happened to the companies during their first few days in Germany.
One day 36 Germans, the entire complement of a pillbox, surrendered to Pfc Sklarew, a medic from B Co who was armed with only a mess kit.
Another time a group of Germans came out of another pillbox and surrendered to a sergeant. One claimed to be from Brooklyn having returned to Germany on a visit just before the war. He was drafted and on duty in this vicinity for the last four years. He claimed that he had never fired a shot on American troops. Proof of the truthfulness of this statement was found in the fact that in the pillbox from which he surrendered there was a loaded machine gun, in perfectly good working order, trained directly on the route of approach; it had not been fired.
On Sep 16, Maj Jack W. Lipphardt, who had assumed command of the battalion on D-Day when Lt Col Thomas H. James had been seriously wounded and evacuated, received his promotion to Lt Col by orders from 1A. The battalion was relieved from attachment to V Corps, 1A, on Sep 18, and attached to the 3A, now to be known as Patton’s men. The companies pulled out of the line, feeling a bit guilty about leaving those battered dough boys still in there, and proceeded to the battalion assembly area near Bastogne. The next day the battalion moved through Belgium into France near Longwy and arrived that night at Brainville. The total number of rounds expended while with the 1A was 36360. On being relieved from V Corps, the battalion was officially commended by Gen Brooks, Corps Commander, for the excellent manner in which it had functioned while with that corps.
XI The Attack on the Metz Fortress
While the 1A had driven across France into Belgium, Luxembourg, and finally into Germany itself, the armor of the 3A had driven south through Orléans toward the oncoming 7A, and also directly east through Chalons toward the medieval fortress of Metz, in the Moselle River Valley. As the 4-AD’s tanks rolled up to the gates of Metz itself, the ever-critical supply of gasoline slowed and then stopped entirely. The cavalry and tankers were driven back out of Metz and across the Moselle by the fiercely counterattacking Germans. Metz had been within grasp, but only for a moment. Supplies had failed to arrive so 3A was forced to lay siege to the city’s many forts. It was now evident that armor alone could not take Metz. Again, the job reverted to the basic weapons of all armies, the dough boy with M-1 rifle and bayonet, supported by artillery and mortars. It was for this reason that the mortars of the 81-MCB were called in to assist in the gigantic task facing the 5-ID and 90-ID.
Much has been written about the assault on Metz, the mighty fortress of Lorraine, but little has been recorded about the battle the troops fought during the period from Sep 19 1944 to Nov 20 1944 with the elements – chiefly, General Mud. It is true that the Germans threw everything they had into the defense of this citadel, yet their greatest ally was the weather. From the battalion assembly area, the companies were attached to the two divisions assaulting the fortress area. A and B Cos going on the north flank of the Metz, with the 90-ID, while C and D Cos went to the south with the 5-ID. The long battle for Metz was characterized by static warfare, similar in many ways to the trench warfare of 1914-1918. The Germans holding out in the fortresses around the city made it impossible for the infantry to advance; thus the attack soon took on the nature of a siege. On Sep 20, B Co occupied a position south of Verneville, in support of the 359-IR. The missions fired in this position, and subsequent ones were, for the most part, harassing and interdictory, or fired in support of the infantry against small groups of enemy personnel manning the perimeter defenses of Fort Jeanne D’Arc, Driant, Marivel and Guise. A woods east of Marrielles was C Co’s first position, facing the fortress city. It was the base of a long, thin spearhead extending north towards Metz. This area was part of an ex-gunnery course of a German officers candidate school, and consequently was well known to the former occupants. As a result, enemy artillery was accurate and heavy. It would be like sitting on the impact areas of Fort Sill and allowing the school personnel to shoot at one. Rain fell persistently, turning the low ground into lakes, and the high ground, once traversed, into a quagmire. The enemy counterattacked, making the salient untenable. During a withdrawal to a new position, 1000 yards to the rear, the enemy brought down a heavy concentration of artillery fire on the 1st platoon and the Co’s CP group, wounding several men. The company commenced firing from the new position, seeking protection from enemy shells by the shelter of nearby German-built dugouts.
D Co moved into previously reconnoitered positions near Gorze on Sep 20, facing Fort Driant, one of the strongest forts surrounding the city of Metz, and the company’s principal target during its stay there. The company took up positions about 3000 yards from the fort in ruined Franco-Prussian War emplacements, with no shelter save scrub trees and caved-in trenches. It remained in this position until Oct 15, taking all the punishment the elements and Jerry could administer. However, it was far from one-sided, for the mortars dealt out more than they took. Three times the dough boys tried to assault the impregnable Driant, and three times they were driven back with heavy losses. During these attacks, and in interim between them, the mortars fired numerous HE and WP missions, giving the infantrymen all the close support possible, but the thick impenetrable walls, moats and labyrinthine corridors of Fort Driant afforded too good protection for the stubbornly defending Krauts. Many smoke screens were fired to deny enemy observation on advancing infantry. Good results were obtained against open emplacements surrounding the fort. On several occasions enemy tanks and self-propelled guns operating near the fort were silenced after concentrations of 4.2 shells had been fired on them. On the night of Sep 28, S/Sgt Turbyne captured two enemy soldiers in civilian clothes infiltrating through the fire direction center area at 0100 hours. That same day D Co was relieved from attachment to the 11-IR and attached to the 19-FAB (5-ID), in order to more closely coordinate fires. Many air missions were flown against the fort, but the 500-pound “eggs” bounced like rubber balls off the solid concrete and exploded in the air. Heavy 240-MM howitzers threw shells at the fort to no avail. The neighboring forts of Marivel and Jeanne D’Arc coordinated their fires, so that Driant was covered by their guns also. The rain continued to fall incessantly, and the soft ground, with its big chunks of hard rock, raised havoc with mortar parts, causing excessive breakage. Other companies were experiencing the same difficulty with mortar-part breakage. Only the pooling of equipment and the redistribution of parts by Headquarters personnel kept the companies firing. On one occasion, a tank firing from the vicinity of Fort Driant shelled the company area. No casualties were sustained, but every shelter-half in the area was full of shrapnel holes, one mortar barrel was dented, and two HE shells broken open without exploding.
B Cos second position in the Metz sector was in a draw, west of Gravelotte. Here it built and furnished two large dugouts. The days became monotonously alike as the first rains of early fall came. Warmth and shelter were primary concerns. On Oct 2, A Co moved just south of Hagondange into “Der Reichswerke Hermann Göring Werksgruppe Hagendinger”. The enormous steel plant was located seven miles north of Metz and one mile west of the Moselle. Many large, colorful pictures of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring adorned the premises. These were, however, quickly and enthusiastically removed. A sign was found in an executive office instructing all who entered to come to attention, give the Nazi salute, and say Heil Hitler. That sign started its trip to the USA the same day. During the stay in the factory, the personnel of this company never suffered a shortage of stationery, as the former occupants had obligingly left an abundant supply. A Cos task was to assist the 357-IR (90-ID) to take the town of Maizières Les Metz. It proved to be a tough nut to track and progress was measured from house to house. On Oct 3 the attack started. It was hotly contested by the enemy, and both sides expended large amounts of artillery, mortar, and small arms ammunition. The infantry advanced slowly, with the close support of A Cos mortars, first taking an enormous slag pile located between the factory and the town, then driving the Germans out of several factory buildings. The dough boys gradually gained control of the northern part of town; then a stalemate ensued and both sides settled down to a slugging match. Attached to the 2-IR (5-ID), C Co moved into position west of Sillingny and dug in for what turned out to be a six-week stay in that immediate area. Much time was spent in improving foxholes and trying to keep warm and dry. Towards the end of the period, the rain became so intense that practically all of the foxholes were filled with water. Roads into the area became bogs. Despite these difficulties, Mess Sgt Haase appeared day after day to bring up hot meals over almost impassable, heavily-shelled roads to the muddy mortar men. On Sep 30, a company rest camp was established at Pagny and several men at a time were given a two-day respite from the mud and discomfort of the line. Clothes were washed, movies attended, and extracurricular activities engaged in. The French were quite cordial.
Throughout the Metz campaign, the companies were kept busy firing. Division and corps artillery were strictly rationed on ammunition, their fires being limited to registration and emergency missions; consequently, the entire artillery support for a time was furnished by the 4.2s and TDs. Fire missions came into C Co at all times of the day and night. All types of firing was done : smoke screens, anti-personnel, harassing, and counter-battery missions were some of the more common types. Firing was observed by our own FOs, artillery FOs, infantry FOs, and even by the dough boys from front line foxholes. FDC controlled most of the firing. While in position near Lorry, several unfortunate incidents occurred. L. Toole, an officer who had won his commission on the battlefield, was accidentally shot to death by an infantryman while returning from the CP. Sgt Innacone was instantly killed during a heavy mortar barrage, while eating chow near a foxhole. The loss of these men was deeply felt by the company.
The long-awaited attack on Fort Driant was begun at 1100, Oct 3. D Co began supporting the advance of the 11-IR (5-ID), by laying a smoke screen that was maintained for five and a half hours, permitting the infantry to reach the fort without observation from the nearby Fort Marivel. One platoon of C Co was brought up into position to reinforce the fires of D Co for this mission. Due to overcast skies, air support for the attack was impossible until later that day. Firing under most adverse conditions, with mortar parts breaking and mortars nearly disappearing from sight into the unfavorable ground, D Co pumped out 1620 rounds of WP in five and a half hours, while the platoon of C Co expended approximately 600 rounds on this mission. Because the guns would go out of action so quickly, it was seldom that more than two guns per platoon would be firing at one time. Several barrels were burned out from the rapid firing, and in all cases the gunners and cannoneers were forced to use asbestos gloves. In some cases, the barrel became so hot that the gunner could not set the sight for making the necessary adjustments. Each barrel at one time or another had a cherry-red glow. Despite the fact that the doughboys had reached their objective under cover of this tremendous screen, they were not able to seize the fort, and the next day, Oct 4, the company was called upon to repeat the performance of the preceding day. Again, a protecting screen was started, at 1045, and continued for seven hours and 15 minutes. This time, D Co bore the brunt of the job alone, firing approximately 2300 rounds of WP in the operation. The dough boys managed to work their way into the first series of corridors of the fort, and even poured burning oil into some of the apertures, but the stubbornly-defended, honeycombed fort just could not be taken by direct assault, despite the heroic sacrifices of the infantrymen. The infantry pulled out of the stronghold that night and reformed at the base of the hill. The company remained near Fort Driant, continuing to support the dough boys by harassing the towns neighboring the stronghold until Oct 15.
The Observation Post used all during these operations was an observation tower 100 feet high, which was under direct observation from the fort. Every now and then, Jerry would spray it with automatic weapons and flak. One time, he really laid it on with artillery and succeeded in knocking out one of the legs supporting the tower; that ended OP for a while. During this first week in October, D Co expended 4845 rounds against Fort Driant. Here the company had its first experience with streamers, incidents where the steel casings of WP shells burst shortly after emerging from the mortar barrels, spreading phosphorus over the gun position and leaving a white streak in the sky pointing out the exact mortar position to the Germans. All during October, the battalion rear CP remained at Brainville, near Conflans, engaged in administrative work with XX Corps and supply to the companies. Exactly one month was spent in the vicinity of Maizières Les Metz by A Co, living in clean office buildings under not-too-unpleasant circumstances. To make the story seemingly complete, several films were shown in an air-raid shelter and the company was visited by Red Cross doughnut girls. However, it was not all a life of ease. A battle was being waged that seemed to have no end. Just as the mess sergeant would yell chow, the platoon sergeant would yell fire mission. Invariably, just as the platoons got in the sack for the night, they would be roused to man the guns. Just as a guy was getting to know that cute Red Cross girl, she had to go. Cest le guerre !
In one month, A Co fired better than 13000 rounds. Return fire from the enemy was limited and the few casualties suffered were minor ones. Missions were varied. Night firing, which consisted of harassing supply routes and possible regrouping areas, was SOP. Infantry officers requested HE fire within 50 yards of their own troops, knocking out an enemy machine gun and all but one of the crew. Acting on POW reports, the company destroyed two ammunition dumps. A direct hit was scored on a dug-in German mortar, and enemy OPs were continually harassed. One truck in a Jerry supply convoy was definitely destroyed. Since the approaches to the front lines were under observation, the mortars of A Co were frequently called upon to screen enemy observation. Later that day, tanks going into Maizières were screened, and thereafter, every time a tank entered or left the front line position, which was at frequent intervals, a screen was fired. Starting 18 Oct, an M-12 tank mounting a 155-MM gun, used for direct firing on buildings occupied by the enemy, was given the same service. At this time, B Co was split up in three sections to cover the regimental fronts of the 358-IR and 359-IR in the Metz area. One of these sections, consisting of two guns of the platoon, remained in Verneville, the other two guns of this platoon stayed in the draw west of Gravelotte, while the 2nd plat moved into a draw south of Resonville. Enemy patrols penetrated the front line in this sector on several occasions during these weeks. Pvt Blankenship, after being challenged in German, shot and wounded a member of the FFI, mistaking him for a member of a German patrol; otherwise, the nights, like the days, were without incident. The rain, the cold, and the monotony of firing always on the same targets made the period of the siege of Metz seem almost endless.
D Co moved from the vicinity of Fort Driant on 15 Oct and set up in the area near Arry, France, on the reverse slope of a hill. Its primary mission here was to destroy the towns of Corny, Fey and Vezon prior to jump-off for the northerly attack on the forts of Verdun and to cover with fire enemy activities on the wooded plain southwest of Metz. All these places were occupied by considerable numbers of the enemy. These missions were carried out quite successfully during the companys prolonged stay in this area. When questioned by intelligence officers, POWs attested to the fear spread by the alternating HE and WP that was being employed. During this period, D Co also established a rest camp in a hotel in Pagny, across the Moselle, where it set up its kitchen and rear CP. This was almost a necessity, since living conditions in the mud and ruins of Arry and its environs were almost unbearable for prolonged periods of time. Yankee (and Rebel) ingenuity was in evidence everywhere among the men in making foxholes and dugouts as livable and comfortable as possible. Makeshift stoves were constructed from Jerry gasoline cans, and the walls of the holes were lined with boards. During this period, the company was visited by an inspection team from Technical Division Chief CWS ETO, seeking to determine the cause of barrel bursts, streamers, shorts, breakage of cartridge containers, and poor condition of ammo in general encountered by the mortar battalions.
On Oct 19, Pfc “Pappy” Fenner was chopping some wood for his fire when someone remarked, “Tough work, isn’t it, soldier?” Fenner, without looking up, replied, “You’re damned right it is,” and then added a hasty “Sir” when he looked up and found Gen George Patton smiling down at him. The next day three men who had been wounded on D-Day, proud holders of the DSC, returned to the company. They were Sgt Nicoli, T/5 Savino, and Pvt Porter. The OPs in this area were hot spots, one in particular constantly coming under fire from the heavy artillery of Fort Verdun. A dead German near the OP became increasingly malodorous as the days passed. He was affectionately labeled “Herman the German.” The company missions from this position included the complete destruction of the towns of Fey, Corny and Vezon. Much equipment was destroyed and many of the enemy killed or wounded. One job in particular was very gratifying. A friendly patrol returning to our lines called for a smoke screen when pinned down by enemy fire. This was quickly furnished and the patrol returned safely. Later in the day, the patrol leader called personally to thank the company for a splendid job. Prior to this, on Oct 19, the ammunition section of B Co, located near Jarny, was subjected to a heavy shelling from long range German 280-MM railway guns, located somewhere near Ebbersviller. The first round burst within 10 yards of the ammunition trucks, which were parked near a stack of HE and WP shells. Five rounds of WP were detonated by the explosion and fires were started throughout the area. S/Sgt Huempfner and T/4 Bower, at great personal risk, fought and finally extinguished the fires. T/5 Gross and Pvt Pace, Headquarters drivers, only partially clad and without shoes, drove the burning ammunition trucks to a place of comparative safety. All were awarded the Bronze Star for their heroic achievement on this occasion.
Maisières Les Metz was taken on Oct 29 with support of A Co’s mortars which fired 2247 rounds that day. A cleverly deceptive plan of attack was worked out whereby the company fired a screen shielding the infantry attacking from the rear, while other units pinned the enemy down from the front. This action diverted attention from the attacking forces and enabled them to overrun the enemy positions. The operation was a complete success and the next day Gen Weaver and Col George of the 90th Infantry Division visited the command post to compliment the company on the effectiveness of its firing.
By the end of the month, the battalion rear moved to St Benoit. At this time all companies except D Co were pulled out of the line for a day or two of rest and recuperation. Finally, the order was given to take Metz. The plan called for four drives, two from bases close to Metz, and two others each crossing the Moselle, one north and the other south of Metz. These latter two were to converge east of the city, cutting the escape routes. A Co was attached to the 358-IR (90-ID), for the northern drive. The company arrived at Koeking on the Moselle on Nov 7 after an extremely wet night move. Mortars were set upon the main street and harassing fire was placed on Haute-Ham. A ferry landing at Cattenom, right under the eyes of the Germans occupying Fort Koenigsmacher, was selected as a bridge site. On Nov 9, the company moved into Haute-Ham and again set up their mortars on a main street. The infantry crossed the Moselle that day in assault boats, captured Fort Koenigsmacher, and beat off several counter-attacks, but were left in a precarious position as a result of the heavy rains which flooded the river and made it almost impossible to construct a bridge. The supply problem became so acute that Piper Cub planes were employed to fly in K rations.
Orders alerting B Co were received on Nov 7. That night, attached to the 359-IR (90-ID), the company moved to an assembly area near the Moselle. Heavy rains delayed the crossing, but the bridgehead was established on Nov 9 with much less difficulty than had been expected. The mortar men crossed without mishap on Nov 13 and 14, and took up positions in the woods of Bois de Koenigsmacher. The following day, after moving into Breistroff la Petite, three men were injured when an enemy tank fired into buildings occupied by the company. C Co swung from the south side of Metz on Nov 10, back across the Moselle to join the 10-AD’s drive to the northeast across the Moselle and into Germany. Maj Hausman, the battalion S-3, accompanied C Co on what proved to be a rugged operation. While on the road during Armistice Day, Nov 11, the company passed St Mihiel, where the huge American military cemetery is located. Many clean and neat GIs were parading there, shoes shined and stripes sewed on. The mortar men looked at one another, covered with mud, wearing an assortment of uniforms, unshaven, dirty, and tired, and were reminded of the doughs in Mauldin’s cartoons. They felt they didn’t belong here with these prettily-dressed soldiers, but belonged back in the mud and rain where mortar shells burst without warning and stripes attracted sniper’s bullets.
The company moved in a half-circle around Metz, arriving in Tetange, Luxembourg, on the 12th, and prepared for the drive on the Saar. The natives of the Luxembourg town entertained the members of C Co royally that night. The Moselle was crossed the next night under cover of darkness and smoke screens. On the Nov 14 the company joined the armored column, moving with the 3rd Tank Battalion. The rain and a heavy shelling made rough going that night. In order to stay with the combat teams, it was found necessary to leapfrog the platoons. As the division spread out, however, the mortar platoons were unable to maintain contact with each other and the leapfrog system was abandoned. Pvt Anthony Pittari was instantly killed and several other men wounded near Kirschnaumen, France, due to a heavy enemy artillery barrage. During this shelling, Cpl Bersch, although wounded, distinguished himself by assisting the medics to evacuate all other wounded personnel. He later received the Silver Star for his gallantry.
Due to the flooding of the Moselle, the armored drive had been postponed and the Germans had been able to build up strong field defenses in this area; in addition to this, the roads were heavily mined. The 10-AD had some tough fighting to do and the platoons of C Co, traveling without armor protection of any kind, continually encountered German troops bypassed by the tanks. The 1st plat moved off to the right, passing through Kirschnaumen, Remeling, Ritzing, and Flastroff, shelling many towns from their various positions. In many places the mortar men were the first troops to enter. Because of the fluid situation, the platoon was forced to retire from the Remeling area when the Germans counter-attacked. The town was subsequently shelled by the company. The 2nd plat meanwhile went to Ritzing, then Launsdorf, and finally further east into Germany. Here the thin section of armor in front of the platoon pulled out, leaving the 4.2 mortars out in front. Even the 50-MMs were set up to the platoon’s rear. The enemy commenced to shell the position with direct fire weapons and mortars until the position became so untenable that march order was given. German observation was good, and while attempting to withdraw up a hill through almost impassable mud, each vehicle in turn seemed to be followed by a flight of mortar shells. One shell hit a trailer, another wounded several men slightly, knocking off Pvt Tester’s helmet. Pvt Tester owes his life to a wad of toilet paper carried in the helmet. The falling helmet struck Pvt Oates, who uttered the immortal words, “Take me Lord, I’m hit.” Two trailers had to be left behind, including a complete mortar, but the platoon finally fought its way out and set up in a more tenable position.
D Co left Arry on Nov 6 and occupied a position near some 1914-1918 pillboxes in the vicinity of Bouxières. This proved to be a jump from one mud puddle into a deeper one. Incessant rains flooded out every foxhole and made the ground wet and soggy and highly undesirable for mortar firing. Despite these difficulties, the company managed to give supporting fire to the infantry, using charges as high as 35 rings at times to get as much as 5200 yards in range. A system of leapfrogging was put into effect, whereby one platoon moved ahead while the other remained in position to give support to the advancing infantry. During this process, the following towns were fired on and then occupied : Cheminot, Louvigny, Vigny, Gare, Beard, Lemud, Buchy, Aube, Dain-en Salnois, Domangeville, Verny, Crepy, Jury, Pouilly, and Magny. The 2-IR and 10-IR of the 5-ID were supported in these operations. It was in Vigny that one officer, while on reconnaissance for a new position, captured an SS trooper attempting to blow up an important bridge, the American officer obtained a brand new P-38 plus the prisoner. German dead, as well as destroyed enemy material, lined the roads as the advance continued. The 4.2 mortars were responsible for a good deal of this destruction. Enemy artillery was active, both from the mobile guns and from those in the forts surrounding Metz.
It was in the vicinity of Magny that the company had its “field days” on Nov 17 and 18. The enemy allowed one platoon to move into position, then opened up with heavy mortars. By infiltrating the men and vehicles, the platoon managed to withdraw without a casualty or loss of equipment and set up in a more tenable position near the 81-MM mortars. An unfortunate incident occurred here when Pvt Keith Sheehan was killed by a premature burst from an American 81-MM mortar. That day, the company destroyed two enemy 75-MM guns, putting one round right through the gun shield of one of them. A battery of enemy 88-MM guns was spotted and fired upon until the enemy gun crews deserted the position. A parade ground near some barracks was fired upon and machine guns were knocked out in the vicinity. Enemy ammunition and oil supplies were also destroyed. All these targets were in the vicinity of Queleu, a suburb of Metz.
A Co had its first experience with a shell bursting in the barrel on the night of Nov 10. Sgt Hodgins and Pvt Haskell Roberts were seriously wounded. The company fired harassing missions on Fort Koenigsmacher and its approaches before its capture, and thereafter harassed roads to the south and burned the towns of Basse-Ham and Haute-Ham. The mortars were called upon to supplement the smoke generators in screening the engineers’ operations while constructing the bridge over the Moselle. On Nov 13, from 0630 to 1615, nine hours and 45 minutes, the company laid a screen in front of the hills beyond Basse-Ham, expending 1,202 rounds to permit the engineers to complete the bridge that day. At 0350 the next morning, A Co crossed the Moselle to Koenigsmacher, and later moved to Valmestroff where it was on the receiving end of an extremely heavy artillery barrage and suffered several casualties.
A smoke screen was laid in front of Distroff, the next town in the drive south, enabling the infantry to capture it with only light casualties. On Nov 15, the company started to infiltrate into this town, one jeep at a time, at 10-minute intervals, since the Germans were still heavily shelling Valmestroff and the road leading to Distroff. It proved to be an “out of the frying pan into the fire” affair, because after several squads had left, the Germans counter-attacked Distroff. Two vehicles had already reached the town; the others halted, sought cover, and worked their way back to Valmestroff. Capt Watts, while attempting to halt the rest of the vehicles, was trapped by a German tank and taken prisoner along with 1st Lt Stone and Sgt Lamb. Pfc Arnold Tuttle, who thereafter was dubbed “half-track,” looked out of the window of the CP, curious to see who had just pulled up in a 6X6, and was amazed to find a fully manned German half-track instead. Tuttle retired to the nearest corner of the room and sought solace in a bottle of champagne. Frank Jones aided an infantryman in loading his bazooka. Several other men, trapped in a barn, sweated it out under a pile of hay while enemy infantrymen probed about and then left, unaware of the presence of the concealed men. Down the street a BAR man pumped six slugs into one of the enemy, who died shouting “Heil Hitler.” Shortly thereafter, the mortars laid down a smoke screen on Valmestroff, enabling our tanks to advance into the town and beat off the enemy, inflicting fairly heavy losses. Lt Baum assumed command of the company.
At Distroff the backbone of enemy resistance was broken. Smoke screens were laid to enable the infantry to advance over the bare ground between towns, and a few harassing missions were fired. The advance continued, and on November 19 the company reached Lue Chateau, east of Metz (Hayes), at which point the encirclement was complete. A few missions were fired into a wooded area near Les Etange where stragglers from Metz were observed trying to escape. The enemy was thoroughly beaten and disorganized. To end such a long hard-fought campaign, five of the enemy walked into the CP and surrendered to an amazed, drowsy switchboard operator.
B Co had its first experience with barrel bursts on Nov 16. Cpl Graves and Pvt McMath were instantly killed near Briestroff when a mortar shell exploded in the barrel at 2315 hours. The next morning another barrel burst occurred, killing Pfc Scarfo and wounding Cpl Kittle and Pfc Winders. At this time, it was impossible to determine any definite cause for the accident except that of faulty ammunition. In spite of this physical and psychological hazard, B Co continued to provide the close support that the infantry so badly needed.
Fort de Queleu, guarding the very gates of Metz, was fired upon by D Co on Nov 20. This fort was to be bypassed and a smoke screen was needed to hide the movements of the infantry. A screen, lasting one hour and 35 minutes, permitted troops to pass safely and advance on the city. Later that day, a screen was provided for a group of engineers who had been pinned down by machine gun fire while attempting to return across the Seille River. On Nov 20, the forward observer from D Co entered the city of Metz with advance elements of the 10-IR (5-ID). Enemy resistance had been crushed by steady pressure and many prisoners were taken. The entire company moved into the ancient city the following day. On Thanksgiving Day an excellent turkey dinner was enjoyed there. In the latter part of November, the rear battalion command post moved to Fontoy, France, where the members of the battalion were later to enjoy a few days of well-earned rest. The 4.2 mortars had played an important role in the conquest of Metz, the Fortress City, which had not been taken by storm since the year 1400. At the end of this phase, the battalion had expended a total of 87,859 rounds of ammunition.
XII. Taking and Holding the Saar Valley
With the fall of Metz, Patton’s 3A continued to advance from the Moselle River across Lorraine to the German frontier and into the important Saar Basin. In the initial phases of the operation to reach the Saar River, the infantry captured Boulay and drove north to outflank the Maginot Line. The initial moves, the same day-after-day sequence of attack, advance and hold, which this time brought out infantry to the banks of the Saar, were similar to the moves made by our troops in the battles through Normandy.
A Co, attached to the 399-IR (95-ID), found itself, on Nov 24, in Gomelange, located on the flooded Neisse River. Elements of the Maginot Line were located on the eastern banks of the Neisse. Resistance was rapidly overcome, and missions were limited to harassing fire on the town of Valmunster, and HE missions against pillboxes and enemy personnel digging in near Valmunster. In this period, B Co played a more significant part than in any other operation in which it had engaged since the Battle of the Hedgerows. The company moved on Nov 25 in support of the 377-IR (95-ID), which was fighting near Boulay sur Moselle. From this time, until the 3rd of December, when the company moved to the west bank of the Saar, the old familiar pattern of the Normandy breakthrough was repeated. Resistance stiffened for a few days, while the Germans withdrew the main body of their troops across the Saar. B Co remained in a static position in Guisingen until this resistance was crushed. A few days later, however, in Niederlimberg (a suburb of Wallerfangen), the company began the long unceasing effort to keep its mortars firing day and night in support of the infantry fighting a bitter, violent battle for Dillingen and a bridgehead across the Saar. Meanwhile, C Co continued to support the 10-AD’s drive. At this time, Lt Andrew Baker and Cpl Ferrera distinguished themselves by crawling forward to a knocked-out tank under fire, dragging several wounded tankers from inside and pulling them to safety. Both received the Silver Star for their gallantry in this action. A decoration came to Lt Baker from the enemy side as well for, while at an OP, a cry for help was heard; crawling forward to investigate, Lt Baker found a German FO, also a 1st Lt, seriously wounded. Baker dragged the wounded officer to the safety of the American lines and the grateful German presented him with his own Iron Cross.
The platoons continued to fire many missions, saving the armor much trouble on the flanks. Many non-battle casualties were evacuated at this time, due to the extremely rigorous weather conditions. Trench foot and colds ran right through the company, although all men made every effort to combat these menaces. C Co was attached to the 90-ID on Nov 26. The company left the 10-AD and moved into position south of the tankers on the Saar River. Shortly after this, the company was shocked to learn of the death of Capt Gates, company commander, who was accidentally killed by a gunshot wound. 1/Lt Lee H. Boyer, executive officer, assumed command of the company.
Metz was the jumping-off place for D Co in the attack on the Saar Valley. On Nov 24, the company joined the 378-IR (95-ID), and advanced using the leapfrog system once more. The enemy again adopted a hit-and-run defense, subjecting the company to intense fire along the route of advance. Fire was so heavy on two towns, Narbefontaine and Niedervisse, that it was necessary to evacuate the ammunition vehicles. The towns of Coume and Hargarten were fired upon and occupied, and the towns of Dalem, Varize, and Denting were entered without incident, after being reduced by the infantry. The towns of Falck, Remering, Berweiler, and Sauleavon fell before the advancing dough boys. In the town of Falck, on Nov 28, the 1st plat of D Co acted as infantry, beating off fierce counterattacks from the hills dominating the towns. Enemy fire became so intense that the company withdrew from Falck. Later on in the day a direct hit was scored on one of the company’s ammunition jeeps in Saule. Two men were slightly injured, but more casualties were averted by the courage of Pvt Myrick, who kept the fire under control with a fire extinguisher; meanwhile, the enemy continued shelling. A Co advanced through Boulay to Momerstroff on Nov 28, where it was attached to the 377-IR. The next day at 1540, the company entered Germany for the second time, near the town of Ittersdorf, west of Saarlautern. Here the company had a noisy reception when shells landed in a field next to the OP, a bulldozer set off a mine at a road intersection, and a barracks 30 feet from the OP blew up. Missions were confined to harassing fires on Felsburg, the roads leading to the town, and high ground above it.
B Co was in position at Niederlimberg on Dec 5, in support of the 358-IR (90-ID), which was preparing to make an assault crossing of the Saar River. At 0430 hours, Dec 6, the infantry crossed and attacked the towns of Dillingen and Pachten. At daybreak the enemy laid a heavy concentration of artillery on the footbridge, which was being screened by a smoke generator company, making it impossible for the “smoke” men to maintain the screen. At 1130 hours, B Co was called upon to take up this screen, and under difficult conditions maintained it until dark that night. The ground was extremely marshy and more than one mortar could seldom be kept in action at a time. Since this footbridge was the only one in use, the others being under extremely heavy shellfire, the success of the crossing was attributed in no small measure to the 4.2 mortars. During that day of firing, the company expended 86 rounds of HE and 1070 rounds of WP. C Co, meanwhile, was moved towards the Saar and took positions in Buren an Itzbach to support the north flank of an assault crossing of the river to be made by the 90-ID. In order to give closer support, the platoons moved up to the town of Rehlingen on the very banks of the river. The road to Rehlingen was “hot,” but no hotter than the town itself. The enemy had excellent observation on all of Rehlingen and movement within the town had to be kept to a minimum. It was found necessary to keep all but a few of the jeeps in Buren and haul up ammunition at night, running the gauntlet by day whenever necessary. The FDC was maintained in Buren with OPs established across the Saar.
By Dec 1, D Co was again firing on German soil in the attack on the town of Bristen. Alt-Forweiler, Neu-Forweiler, and Holzmuhle were next on the list of fiercely contested German towns. From Neu-Forweiler, the company fired a smoke screen in support of the 378-IR attacking Lisdorf on the western bank of the Saar. Holzmuhle, like every other town along the Saar in this sector, proved to be no vacation spot. The company remained in firing position in this town from Dec 4 to Dec 22, 1944, and every day of its stay it was subjected at irregular intervals to shellings from across the river. Near misses in the area caused many flat tires and shrapnel holes in the vehicles. On Dec 5, the infantry crossed the river to Ensdorf, on the east bank, and the initial assault units moved out in assault boats under cover of darkness without preparatory artillery fire. Lt Costello, FO, and Pfc Leslie Palmer, with the assault company, were stranded in Ensdorf for three days when enemy artillery knocked out the only bridge. Street fighting and tank attacks raged in Ensdorf all during that period. Enemy strong points east of Ensdorf, and pillboxes dominating the town were fired upon, and diversionary smoke screens furnished. The enemy fought bitterly to defend the Saar; thus, the mortar targets were numerous and varied. An immense slag pile on the east bank of the river, north of Ensdorf, was fired upon continuously to deny the enemy its use as an observation post. The town of Griesborn, and the eastern outskirts of Ensdorf were fired on many times. Attachment was changed on Dec 7 to the 358-FAB (95-ID), so that more closely coordinated fire could be achieved. Harassing fire was poured upon suspected enemy positions during the hours of darkness to keep enemy movements down to a minimum. The battalion rear command post had meanwhile moved to Ebersviller, France from Fontoy. A report on ammunition difficulties was rendered to higher headquarters by the battalion command, Lt Col Lipphardt, together with several defective specimens in an effort to remedy the situation.
A Co first supported the bloody attack on Saarlautern from Oberfelsberg, where it took up position on Dec 1, moving the next day to a former military camp near Saarlautern, while still attached to the 377-IR. Here the company CP, FDC and OP were all established in one schoolhouse. Interdictory fire was directed on Roden, a suburb of Saarlauten, located on the east bank of the river. On Dec 4, the infantry pushed into Roden, supported with fire from the 4.2s. On Dec 7, the company moved into Saarlauten proper and here it was on the receiving end of numerous mortar and artillery TOTs (Time on Target), which caused several casualties. Facing a very strong part of the Siegfried line, A Co was called upon for night and day missions. Sometimes as many as seven different targets at night were fired upon. HE and WP shells were used to burn houses, harass enemy OPs and supply routes, and button up the numerous pillboxes lining the banks of the Saar. The company also participated in many TOTs (Time on Target Firing) and fired missions observed by infantry and artillery personnel. B Co remained in position at Niederlimberg for the greater part of December. During the two weeks following the infantry’s crossing of the Saar on Dec 6, the mortars were kept busy night and day under difficult conditions, averaging nearly 2,000 rounds per day. In one 24-hour period, ending at midnight on Dec 8, the company fired 2925 rounds in support of the 358-IR fighting across the river. Day-long screens to cover the engineer’s attempts to span the river with footbridges, as well as screens to cover the movement of the ferries crossing with supplies and returning with wounded, were fired by the company. In addition to this, HE and smoke missions were furnished in support of the infantry. Night harassing and interdictory fires in Dillingen and its approaches, were also fired. During this period, every man in the company not actually engaged in firing worked hauling ammunition, unloading the ammo trucks, and preparing the rounds for firing. On Dec 9, between 1615 and 1730, 936 rounds were fired to engage 20 targets requested by the infantry regiment. B Co’s firing was the heaviest in the battalion during the month of December; in the first seven days, almost 14000 rounds were expended.
All during the company’s stay at Niederlimberg, the mortar positions were under enemy artillery and mortar fire from across the river, but fortunately only light casualties were suffered. One serious loss was suffered, however, when a fire broke out in a storage room in which prepared rounds were stored, ready for use in night harassing missions.
Gen Van Fleet, 90th Division Commander, paid a visit to the company on Dec 12 to express his satisfaction and appreciation for the firing which the company had accomplished in support of the Dillingen operations. The pace of this day and night firing began to slacken somewhat on Dec 16, when only 429 rounds were fired. During the period of its stay at Rehlingen, C Co fired more ammunition than in any other period of comparable length. The infantry had to fight to the utmost to preserve their bridgehead and every round fired in their support helped. Counterattacks were fierce and heavy and often supported by tanks. Pinpoint concentrations to stop these counterattacks were often necessary and were fired at all times of the day and night. Actual ammunition expenditures average close to 2,000 rounds daily. WP was used primarily as an anti-personnel and incendiary agent. Several local towns were reportedly set on fire. Most of the enemy were in pillboxes and thus not vulnerable to mortar fire. Jerry did run in a couple of mortars or a self-propelled gun for a while, fire, and then pull out. Concentrations of HE were particularly effective against these targets of opportunity. During this period, T/4 Harvey and T/5 Cleary were seriously wounded and Pvt Arnold was killed when a land mine exploded near a knocked-out 6×6 truck they were inspecting for spare parts. The telephone wire from Buren to Rehlingen was knocked out several times a day by enemy shells, but despite the necessity of working under heavy fire the communications section did a splendid job in keeping the lines in operation.
The companies were now entrenched firmly along the west bank of the Saar River, from Saarlautern towards Mondorf, when the plan of operations was changed from an offensive one to a holding action. The reason for the change in tactics was the “Battle of the Bulge” being waged further north.
In the face of fast-diminishing manpower and equipment, Hitler decided to stage one last counter-offensive, planning to carry the German line to the Meuse in two days and Antwerp in three weeks. If successful, 38 allied divisions would be cut off and the Germans given the respite they were seeking. Von Rundstedt, in an all-out gamble on Dec 16, struck at the weakest part of the allied line, south of Liège and northeast of Bastogne. By Dec 23, the Germans had broken through in an area extending just south of Monschau to Wiltz. Only the courage and steadfastness of American troops, like the 101-Abn at Bastogne and 9 and 10-AD, stopped the German steamroller in the Ardennes. Allied forces were quickly regrouped by Gen Eisenhower to squeeze the top and bottom of the Bulge, and a greater portion of Patton’s Third, spearheaded by the 4-AD, were pulled from the Saar Basin in the south to help relieve the pressure.
As a result, only a holding force was left along the Saar River, and the Siegfried Switch Line extending from Merzig west to the Moselle River. The infantry remaining was pulled back to the west bank of the Saar River into defensive positions, and only the bridgehead at Saarlauten was maintained. The front along the Saar, from north of Merzig to south of Saarlauten, was held by only two divisions all during those two hectic weeks. Artillery ammunition was low, and consequently the mortars were called upon for the bulk of the fire missions. In line with the regrouping of troops for defense, A Co retired to a safer position on Dec 25, where it could still reach the majority of its targets, with part of the company going to Soughof, and the remainder to Schonbruck. The company remained in this static position for the remainder of the Ardennes offensive, firing for the most part only night harassing missions. In B Co’s sector, troops were withdrawn from Dillingen on Dec 21, the position being no longer tenable because of the thinly held front. The withdrawal operations were covered again by smoke screens provided by B Co’s mortars and on Dec 22, after the last troops had been evacuated, the company moved out under one of the heaviest and most concentrated shellings it had yet received. Only a small holding force was left along the river. Most of the 358-IR plus upporting units, including B Co, moved north to the Siegfried Switch Line to take up positions along the section of the German border which formed the southern leg of the Saar-Moselle triangle.
From Dec 24 until Jan 22, when the initial attacks against the Saar-Moselle triangle were launched, B Co remained in static defense positions at Schuerwald and Gangelfange. Alternate positions were chosen as the division’s plan called for a defense in depth in case of an enemy breakthrough of the thinly held lines. Christmas and New Years were celebrated by most of the battalion in the line, and as many festivities as possible were held in an effort to make the holidays pleasant in spite of the combat conditions. Packages from home were shared and somehow, somewhere, a little bottled cheer was obtained. Deep snow covered the ground and the weather became quite cold. On Jan 4, Cpl Penrod was the first man from B Co selected to go to the United States under the furlough plan. The battalion rear CP did a splendid job in establishing and maintaining a rest camp at Fontoy, France shortly after Christmas. Here the battle-weary mortar men enjoyed a few days of much-needed rest, recreation and relaxation; each company sending back a few men at a time. Dances, movies, USO shows, super-chow, and the delights of the neighboring towns of Longwy and Villerupt did much to raise the men’s morale.
On Dec 22, C Co moved to Mondorf into a defensive position to the north, on the Saar, opposite Merzig. Close cooperation with the infantry was established in the event of a counter-offensive in this sector. The very first night the company moved in, a heavy artillery barrage came down on the company CP. Since the barrage was very accurate, it was thought to have been observed by civilians in the town. Following this, all civilians were evacuated and the town became extremely quiet. The main event was the excellent Christmas dinner served by the mess sergeant and his crew. On the same day, D Co moved north to the town of Itzbach, opposite Dillingen. During the period of the Ardennes offensive, this company with the aid of a few infantry and cavalry troops held a front along the Saar of approximately two and a half miles. The enemy had re-occupied the towns of Dillingen and Pachten after the withdrawal of the Americans, and re-manned all the pillboxes on the eastern bank of the Saar. D Co’s entrance into Itzbach was greeted by a heavy shelling from enemy positions across the river. This was repaid many-fold in the days that followed.
A partly demolished railroad bridge used by enemy patrols to cross the river became one of the company’s primary targets. One mortar at least was kept on it at all times and the company forward observers used it to show off the accuracy of the 4.2 to the artillery observers. Any movements seen by day or heard by night were subjected to immediate fire from the mortars. This was necessary since, if Jerry got across in force it would have meant a dangerous threat to the entire line. With the route across the bridge denied, the enemy attempted to send patrols across by boat. Although camouflaged, the FOs picked out the boats and directed sufficient fire on them to render them useless. At this time, an unusual mission was given to the companies. The mission was to fire intermittently on the Saar River to keep the ice broken, thus denying the Krauts another method of crossing the river. Shortly after coming to Itzbach, the FO party ran into a patrol of Germans that had crossed the river and occupied the OP during the night. T/5 Stejskal, a member of the party, opened fire on the patrol, killing two of the enemy and wounding another. The OP party withdrew and the wooded area was subjected to fire by the 4.2s. No more enemy patrols were encountered until Jan 3, when the command post received a radio call from the 733rd Field Artillery Battalion forward observer asking for help. The OP had been surrounded by a strong enemy patrol and one of the FO party had been wounded. A patrol was immediately formed and it proceeded to the besieged observation post. The enemy was engaged and dispersed, resulting in two enemy soldiers wounded and one taken prisoner.
One of the mysteries of the war occurred on Dec 31. The enemy was observed in what appeared to be a formal guard mount in Pachten. What they were doing nobody knows; at any rate, it turned out fatally for the participants. Thirty-eight rounds landed in and around the ceremonial group, causing an estimated 15 casualties.
Cpl George Neu was the first man from D Co to be selected for a furlough to the United States; he was one of the original D-Day men who had been decorated for heroic achievement.
D Co’s OP, overlooking the Saar, was used as a training ground for new officers of the battalion. Under the supervision of veteran forward observers, these officers were instructed in precision firing, the building of smoke screens, and in the use of artillery methods of observation, using the Germans and their installations for targets. Platoon and squad sergeants were also given an opportunity to see the results of their work. Lt Steffens, during one of these instruction periods, chose a cable used by the enemy to cross the river as a demonstration target, and managed to put it out of action with a round of HE; a fine feat of precision firing. As the year came to a close, the battalion had expended 154,567 rounds of ammunition. Many outfits had made a great ceremony of firing their 100,000th round. The 81st was too busy firing to bother with such fol-de-rol.
On Jan 7, B Co was attached to the 301-IR (94-ID), which took over the 358-IR sector. Part of the company moved up to Mittel Tunsdorf, Germany, on Jan 19, to support the attack of the 301-IR against the town of Orscholz on the following day. The attack lasted for two days and met with such fanatic resistance that the infantry suffered heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw under cover of a smoke screen maintained by B Co throughout the day. The mortar company then withdrew from Mittel Tunsdorf, which was shortly thereafter overrun by the enemy. The first operation against the Saar-Moselle triangle had been a failure. On Jan 22, the company was attached to the 302-IR (94-ID), which had pushed a thin wedge along the eastern bank of the Moselle and was holding the narrow bridgehead opposite the company’s position in Klienmacher, Luxembourg. The first operations against the triangle were slow and costly and for almost a month thereafter the battle was little more than a holding operation, while sufficient forces were being brought up for a large-scale attack.
C Co’s next important move came on Jan 9, when a re-attachment to the 94-ID necessitated a move to the Siegfried Switch Line in the Saar-Moselle triangle. During this period, the platoons were in small towns of Perl on the Franco-German border. As attachments within the division changed, the platoons moved from town to town. The company command post was usually at Pillingen or Wochern, while the town of Borg was continually used for an observation post as well as a mortar position. The 94th’s job was at first to create a diversion, then attempt to take part of the line, keeping the crack 11. SS Panzer Division, still in the vicinity, from entering the Ardennes offensive. Later, with the assistance of the 10-AD, the 94-ID did accomplish a major breakthrough.
XIII. The Saar-Moselle Triangle
After Von Rundstedt’s offensive into the Ardennes had been smashed, at heavy cost to the enemy, the 3A concentrated on cleaning up the triangle formed by the Saar and Moselle Rivers. The 94-ID now had the support of the 10-AD and other units released from the Bulge and from the Saarlautern area, among these B and C Cos of the 81st. A Co remained in the Saarlautern area during this operation. The Saar line itself was held by a mediocre Volksgrenadier Division, reinforced by the crack 11. SS Panzer Division. During the first days of the campaign, B Co supported the infantry from positions in Kleinmacher and later from Remich on the Luxembourg side of the Moselle. For the most part, the missions fired were smoke screens, although several targets of opportunity were effectively engaged. The numerous enemy pillboxes were most successfully attacked after smoke screens had been laid to cut off observation. Lt Eggert was seriously injured by a land mine while on an FO mission across the Moselle River during an attack on Jan 26. No other casualties were suffered. On the following day, B Co moved up to Remich in support of the 302-IR’s advance and went into a static position, remaining there until Feb 18. The 301-IR took over this section on Jan 28, and the company continued in support of the relieving regiment. The 2nd plat moved across the river on Jan 31 to Wochern, Germany, in order to provide closer support. As a result of the spring thaws, all bridges across the Moselle north of Thionville had been washed out and the troops on the German side were virtually isolated, except for the bridge at Thionville.
S/Sgt Young was the first enlisted man in B Co to receive a direct commission as 2nd Lt, being awarded the appointment on Feb 1. The first of the large-scale attacks to occupy the east bank of the Moselle north of Besch, and ultimately clear the triangle, began on Feb 7. The platoon across the river moved into Nennig in order to support the attack. This position was heavily shelled by the enemy during the time it was occupied. Several men were wounded and many vehicles temporarily put out of action. Sgt Byrnside was instantly killed on Feb 8 when an artillery shell burst beside him in the street. In spite of heavy counter-battery fire, the platoon maintained smoke screens and fired all other missions called for the infantry.
On Feb 13, Capt Herbert Levy left the company to go on temporary duty to the USA for rest and recuperation. He was still in the US when the war in Europe ended. As the companies swung north into the Saar-Moselle triangle, the battalion rear command post remained at Ebersviller, France and the rest camp was still maintained at Fontoy. By Jan 22 the towns of Tettingen, Butsdorf, and Nennig, in C Co’s sector, had fallen. This was the left flank of the line, but such success did not as yet constitute a major breakthrough. German shelling of the mortar positions was generally heavy. Until Jan 26 the platoons helped the infantry in beating off severe counterattacks. One infantry platoon leader personally expressed his appreciation for the effective fire furnished his unit. Local attacks took place from Jan 26 to Feb 15. On this latter date, the town of Sinz was taken. Screening support and HE were fired intermittently all during these operations, as were emergency missions against strong counterattacks, supported by tanks. Meanwhile, D Co’s attachment had changed to the 26-ID Artillery, and on Feb 1, Brig Gen Ross, artillery commander, visited the mortar positions and the FDC. He was pleased with the operation of the FDC and complimented the entire company for efficiency of operation. Other visitors during this period were Brig Gen Bullene, Office of the Chief, CWS, Washington, D.C.; Col Day, Assistant Cml. Officer, ETOUSA; Col Powers, 12-AG Cml. Officer; Col Green, XX Corps Cml. Officer; and Capt Paulson, technical expert from Edgewood Arsenal, who arrived Feb 15, to make a survey of faulty ammunition that the mortar companies had been encountering. After an inspection, the group complimented Capt Marshall on the performance of his company.
D Co kept steady pressure on the enemy from its position in Itzbach until Feb 18. On that day, the company was notified of a change in Table of Organization, which necessitated the disbanding of the company and transfer of the personnel to A, B, C, and Hqs companies. It was with reluctance, but a feeling of pride in a job well done, that D Co disbanded. All the men were determined to continue putting their best efforts forward in their new companies. D Co’s contribution to the final destruction of Germany’s armed might had been far from insignificant. On Jan 29, A Co, still in the Saarlautern area, was attached to the 102-FAB (26-ID). Under this attachment the company was to have little spare time. 24-hour firing schedules were assigned, in addition to many missions fired by infantry observers, often within a hundred yards of friendly troops, but with excellent results. Since their ammunition was rationed, artillery observers fired the 4.2s considerably. To make the cycle complete, even the 81-MM mortar observers fired several missions. It seemed everybody was firing the already overworked 4.2 mortars. The company moved back to Saarlautern on Feb 13, leaving Schonbruck an entirely different looking place. Although the town was literally crawling with livestock when the company arrived, these strangely disappeared during the next few weeks; only a few decrepit looking goats being left to roam about. Evidently, the lady who, on being evacuated, cried, “Who will take care of my chickens?” had many a volunteer. “Representative” Will Brent of Mississippi kept an attic full of chickens but failed to promote eggs on a wholesale basis. Just before coming Saarlautern, Sgt Collum’s squad set a record by firing over 1000 rounds without once digging out the baseplate; only a move to another mortar position discontinued the score.
Here was probably the most boring period A Co experienced in combat. The time was marked by an increasing number of smoke screens for limited drives, and to shield tank and tank destroyer movements. Impounded ammunition was fired with lanyards. The rest camp at Fontoy proved to be a welcome escape from the drudgery of Saarlautern. The company attended a showing of a film on non-fraternization. Ironically enough, the only inhabitants of Saarlautern besides the American soldiers, were a herd of malodorous goats. A week later, 36 men and three officers from the disbanded D Co joined this company and a third platoon was formed. While at Saarlautern, a second enlisted man from A Co received a commission. S/Sgt Bartley Cranston, who had been with the company since June 1942, was commissioned a 2nd Lt. During the tremendous difficulties encountered, the men of the disbanded D Co were transferred and supplies turned in and redistributed with a minimum of confusion while the companies were still in the line. The feat of reorganization while in the line is perhaps the first time that any such thing has been done. This was made possible by the efficient operation of the companies and battalion supply sections. This reorganization was officially completed on Feb 22. The first of the great attacks to clear the Saar-Moselle triangle began on Feb 19. At 0400, after an artillery barrage comparable to those which preceded the attacks in Normandy, the 301-IR jumped off as part of the division attack; by nightfall the infantrymen had secured their first objective, the town of Faha. The attack was highly successful, resulting in heavy enemy casualties, many prisoners taken, and large quantities of German heavy equipment destroyed or captured.
Both platoons of B Co displaced forward on Feb 20 from Sinz to Faha, after the attack had again progressed on schedule. By early evening, the infantry succeeded in occupying most of the objectives around Freudenberg. B Co was responsible in no small measure for the comparatively light casualties suffered by the infantry in the attack. Two smoke screens were laid down and kept going in the manner of a creeping barrage, behind which our infantry advanced. The objective for the next day was the Saar River. Late in the evening the river was reached and B Co displaced forward to occupy the towns of Perdenbach and Kastel; the mortars were laid to cover the river in case of a counterattack. The 301-IR received orders to attack again on Feb 22, to establish a bridgehead across the Saar. Before this could be done, however, the small town of Krutweiler, on the west bank of the Saar, still in German hands, had to be taken. The 9th Recon Group was assigned this task and the 2nd plat of B Co fired a four-hour smoke screen to prevent observation on this town from the town of Saarburg and from pillboxes on the west bank. Results were excellent; not one of the attacking groups became a casualty from enemy fire although several were killed and wounded by S mines. Following this the company fired a screen enclosing the entire bridgehead from 1100 until dark, a feat which contributed greatly to the success of the operation.
The entire company crossed the river that night by ferry and by a bridge at Taben-Rodt; several shellfire was encountered all along this route. The company then set up in static positions in Serrig. Later, one platoon moved back across the river to Hamm. Because of a freak bend in the river, Hamm actually was further east than Serrig, and thus offered a more suitable position with better range coverage. From here the company fired numerous HE missions for the 301-IR and the 5th Rangers (5-RB) on stubbornly resisting pockets of the enemy holding out in the broken and mountainous terrain. The opposing troops at this time were elements of the 11. SS Panzer Division and the 2. Gebirgsjaegerdivision. In C Co’s sector on Feb 19, in conjunction with the 10-AD, the 94-ID broke the line from the Moselle to Oberleuken, the latter being taken by the 5-RB. By the 20th, the armor had rapidly driven to Saarburg and the northern tip of the triangle.
Feb 22 found C Co in Dittlingen and Kastel where men assigned from disbanded D Co arrived. While on reconnaissance to Saarburg, Capt Boyer, Lt Yorke, and party, captured 69 prisoners. With the 1st plat on the left and the 2nd on the right the advance continued to the Saar. The company CP moved to Saarburg while the 1st plat, now attached to the armor, supported a Saar River crossing near Ockfen. The 2nd plat meanwhile coordinated with the 87th Smoke Generator Co set up to fire a smoke screen south of Saarburg, near Hamm.
On Feb 26, the 2nd plat crossed the river and advanced to the east, stopping eventually near the town of Zerf on Mar 1 where exceptionally heavy resistance was encountered. The 1st plat crossed the river on the 27 by means of a ferry to Ockfen, and then advanced by short jumps toward Trier. By Mar 4, this platoon had entered Trier while the 2nd plat was firing on a hot corner near Zerf. The armor had swung abruptly to the north onto the main highway here, and the Germans, from good defensive positions, were counterattacking with SS troops, supported by mortars, rockets, and artillery. In fact, at one time, the SS troops cut the main supply route to the platoon.
On Feb 28, Lt Col Lipphardt, battalion commander, established a forward battalion supply point in the triangle. This action provided the companies with a more accessible clearing point for the transmission of documents to the battalion rear and facilitated the movement of supplies and spare parts forward. The 76-ID, north of the Moselle opposite Trier, sent a regiment across a bridge, which had been captured intact, to help clean up the Trier area; the 1st plat was attached to the 417-IR (76-ID). The 10-AD’s push north to clear the triangle was highly successful. The German resistance was quickly broken and, on Mar 4, American troops held all the ground between the Saar and the Moselle. The success of this operation paved the way for the drive to the Rhine and the great enveloping operation, which destroyed the German XII Army Group. At the end of this period the battalion had fired a total of 199,520 rounds.
XIV. The Drive to the Rhine
After the First Army had secured a bridgehead over the Rhine at Remagen, the Germans naturally expected Patton to cross the Rhine and start rolling from this point. Instead, he made a quick thrust, captured the junction of the Moselle and the Rhine, and then continued south into the rear of the German forces facing the Seventh Army. The XX Corps of the Third Army meanwhile attacked southeast from Trier and achieved a breakthrough as far as Kaiserlautern. This corps made contact with the armor attacking from the Moselle and thus trapped fragments of four German divisions. The companies of the 81st played an important part in this XX Corps operation. The drive began with the establishment of a bridgehead east of the Saar, near the Saarbur-Serrig area.
A Co remained in position in Saarlautern until Mar 12 when it moved to a point five miles east of Saarburg. Its mission was to support the 80-ID in punching a hole in the German defense line so as to permit the 14-AD to race through and either drive the Germans back across the Rhine or trap them on this side of it. The plan was to attack and take Schwartzwalder Hochwald, beyond which lay flat rolling plains ideal for tank operations. The attack, which started at 0300 on Mar 13, was preceded by a tremendous barrage from massed artillery. For two solid hours a stream of shells was thrown at the enemy. In one hour, A Co fired 353 rounds on the town of Greimerath; the WP caused several large fires. The attack started slowly, but gradually picked up momentum. The company did not move until dark during the first evening, although subjected to heavy Nebelwerfer fire all that day. Mortar positions were so close to the front that two tanks were knocked out only a few hundred yards from where one platoon was set up. On Mar 15, the company displaced forward and fired WP on the town of Sheiden, which was completely destroyed. Artillery fire aided in burning this town.
By the next day, the speed of attack had increased to such a pace that the company made several moves. The roads all along the route of advance were littered with German dead, burned-out vehicles, and abandoned horse and wagon trains. That night the company stayed in Waldholzbach, where the enemy had abandoned several 120-MM mortars and a horse-drawn supply caravan. It was in Waldholzbach that the house occupied by CP rear burned down (origin unknown). Sgt Jack Huntley, usually cool under enemy fire, ran upstairs and jumped out of a window. All he had to do was walk out the front door on the ground floor to escape the flames. The retreat rapidly became a rout. By Mar 18 the company was making several moves a day and was not in contact with the enemy until reaching Kussel on the 19th. The withdrawing enemy troops attempted to escape across the Rhine by way of Ludwigshafen, but the air force tore up their columns at Bad Durkheim, strafing and destroying thousands of vehicles. Burned out vehicles, dead horses, and the litter that marks an army in flight could be seen for miles.
Mar 21 was a black day in the history of A Co. At 0710, enemy planes attacked the company, which at the time was serving breakfast; strafed and dropped anti-personnel bombs over a wide area causing very heavy casualties. This occurred at Wachenheim, south of Bad Durkheim and west of Ludwigshafen. Lt Campbell, Lt Griffith, and Pvt Bell were fatally injured; Capt Baum, Lt Koresdoski and 35 men wounded 40 battle casualties within 10 minutes. For its part in the drive to the Rhine, B Co was attached to the 94-ID. In preparation, the company moved out of position in the bridgehead across the Saar on Mar 9, remaining attached to the various regiments of this division until the banks of the Rhine were reached. The drive began on Mar 10 and progressed slowly at first, but gained momentum until marches of 10, 15, 20, and finally 30 to 40 miles a day were made without encountering serious opposition. The company captured so many prisoners that it became necessary to leave the ranking German officer or NCO in charge with instructions to surrender to the American rear elements. The speed of the advance was so rapid that it was impossible for the forward elements to handle the vast number of German prisoners, and long columns of them could be seen marching to the rear without benefit of guards.
After passing through Birkenfeld on Mar 19, part of the company set up and fired on some German vehicles and half-tracks, which could be seen from the mortar position on a hill about 900 yards away. The guns were laid directly and all fire was adjusted from the mortar position. This type of fire-adjustment was unique in the combat history of B Co. By this time, the last recourse of the fleeing Germans was to commit the remaining Luftwaffe in strength. Soon jet-propelled planes put in an appearance over the columns, strafing and bombing nearly every day. The 2nd plat was subjected to several bombing and strafing attacks on Mar 21, causing injuries to several men. In spite of this, the platoon moved a total of 42 miles during that day. The next day, the 1st plat fired the company’s first mission on a target across the Rhine from the town of Moersch. Meanwhile, the 2nd plat was firing from Oggersheim, in support of the attack on the important town of Ludwigshafen on the Rhine. The platoon position in Oggershiem, as well as all the adjoining streets, was constantly subjected to enemy artillery fire. It was here that the company suffered its last battle casualty west of the Rhine when Cpl Harvey Colome was killed by the freak burst of an 88-MM armor piercing shell exploding in the room directly above the cellar in which he was sleeping.
At the beginning of this period, the battalion rear command post remained at Ebersviller, France. Battalion forward command post consisted of three jeeps, the battalion commanding officer, battalion S-3 and battalion S-2. This party made contact with all companies daily. On the 13th of March, Brig Gen Rowan, Chief CSW, ETOUSA; Col Powers, Twelfth Army Group Chemical Officer; and Col Wallington, Third Army Chemical Officer, visited the battalion commander and staff. The rear group departed from Ebersviller on Mar 21, after a three and a half months stay, and proceeded to Urweiler, Germany. After a few days there, it moved on to Gonsenheim, a suburb of Mainz. Because of the rapid and long advances, supply men and mail orderlies put in long hours on crowded roads to bring vital supplies and precious mail to the rolling columns. Certain supplies were difficult to obtain and many a German vehicle was stripped of tires to replace those worn out on mortar vehicles; tires were fast becoming a critical item. During this time, firing was not too heavy since there was no longer a stable front.
After cleaning up the Trier area, C Co was attached to the “Yankee” (26th) Division for a part in the drive to the Rhine. First this division attacked down the east bank of the Saar, towards Merzig, while the company set up in towns on the west bank to cover the infantry across the river. This country was very rough, hilly, and difficult to fight through, and the platoons were kept busy firing against enemy personnel entrenched in the rocks and pillboxes. A striking example of devotion to duty was displayed by communications Sgt Tierce who attempted to swim the fast-moving, ice cold Saar with a line tied to his waist, in order to get a communications wire across. The current almost carried Sgt Tierce away when he was within 10 yards of the opposite shore, and he had to be pulled back. However, the line was later carried across by other means. The east bank of the Saar was cleared by Mar 17. The company crossed the river in support of two regiments of the 26th Division, which drove directly east towards Kaiserlautern and the Rhine. Although resistance was scattered, small groups would at times hold out stubbornly. The main towns passed through by C Co in this rapid advance were Merzig, Urexweiler, Ottweiler, and Landstuhl. The infantry then swung south of Kaiserlautern into a great forest. The company joined regimental convoys and moved on northeast to Alzey through Winweiler and Kircheim Bolinden. Although close to the Rhine, C Co never did reach it on this drive. On Mar 24, orders came from the battalion for all companies to return to an assembly area near St Wendel, Germany. Enemy resistance west of the Rhine had been utterly destroyed and the battalion now prepared for the forthcoming Rhine crossing and the swift campaign to finish off the remnants of the German army still in retreat east of the great river. In driving from the Normandy coast to the banks of the Rhine, the battalion had expended a total of 208,641 rounds of ammunition.
XV. Mop Up to Austria
Mainz fell on Mar 23 to Patton’s Army, with armored units forging ahead to cut the escape routes and isolate remaining enemy forces. The Third Army, working from a bridgehead established south of Mainz, drove from the east bank of the Rhine, reaching Frankfurt by Mar 26, and a point 70 miles northeast of Frankfurt by Apr 1. Such a good job had been done of eliminating the German armies on the west bank of the Rhine that this operation was carried out with comparative ease. Meanwhile the vital industrial Ruhr area had been encircled by elements of the First and Third Armies. This operation cut off the bulk of the enemy’s remaining reserves. Gen Eisenhower’s strategy of great double enveloping movements to cut off and destroy the main German army groups fighting in the Ruhr and in the south beyond Frankfurt, was by now a complete success. In late April, American troops began mopping up operations in Austria, the campaign for Germany was virtually at an end. The campaign had been characterized by long, swift advances. Occasional short, sharp infantry battles had been fought, but in only a few of these was heavy mortar support required.
B Co was the first in the battalion to cross the Rhine, an advance party passed over a pontoon bridge near Bauscheim at 1600 on Mar 27, and the remainder of the company followed after dark that same night. The sight of navy crews running LCVPs across the river brought back vivid memories of D-Day. At Bauscheim the company was attached to the 905-FAB (80-ID). Moving with the artillery, the company advanced 27 miles to the Main River, near its confluence with the Rhine. Little resistance was encountered here, although heavy artillery fire landed in the town of Bischofsheim, where the company set up to support the infantry about to cross the Main. The next day, B Co crossed the Main River to Delkenheim; the days that followed were spent moving along the roads in motor convoy, trying to keep up with the rapidly advancing forward elements. There were no front lines as such, and an advance of 40 to 50 miles a day was not unusual. The excellent Reichsautobahn made possible these advances, in spite of the great volume of traffic. The general route of advance, after crossing the Main, was northeast between Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, along the Reichsautobahn heading north towards Giessen, then northeast past Alsfeld and Hirsfeld, and finally swinging north to Kassel. While approaching Kassel, near Guxhagen, on Apr 1, enemy tanks fired on the 1st plat convoy, killing PFC Swenson. At this time, the company was attached to the 319-IR (80-ID); several missions were fired in support of this regiment’s attack on the Kassel area.
By Apr 7, the drive had carried so far forward that B Co moved into an assembly area in the city of Gotha and remained there until the tactical situation should again require the use of 4.2 mortars. Two days later on Apr 9, Lt Bartley Cranston realized the forward observer’s dream when the Germans launched a strong counterattack against the 319-IR then forming in Hocheim for an attack on the city of Erfurt. Lt Cranston directed HE on the attacking force, repulsing it and forcing the enemy to withdraw, leaving approximately 100 dead and wounded behind. The 1st plat was at this time supporting the 318-IR’s attack on Weimar. Upon its relief from this organization on Apr 12, the division artillery commander of the 80-ID commended B Co on the superior support it had furnished during the attachment. Before leaving the Erfurt area, B Co personnel were shown the results of Nazi savagery at the Ohrdruf concentration camp. No one who saw this inhuman spectacle had any doubts thereafter as to what he was fighting against.
For B Co these were the last days of combat in the European theater. The company was placed on detached service with the AA Radar School, Fifteenth Army, at Chateau Reux, near Dinant, Belgium, as school troops. It remained at that station until shortly after hostilities ceased. C Co was not very far behind B Co in crossing the Rhine. A few hours after B Co’s crossing at Bauscheim, C Co crossed at Mainz and drove all night on the autobahn, passing through Frankfurt on the way. The advance started off in a northeasterly direction towards Kassel, following the route of the 11-AD. Occasionally, a German plane would bomb and strafe the column. The task force to which the company was attached was on the northern flank of the Third Army just beyond the Ruhr pocket. Prisoners were continually being taken by members of the company as bypassed Germans were everywhere.
On Apr 5, the company pulled into Eschwege, a large town southeast of Kassel where it was employed in guarding a hospital and large warehouses filled with military equipment; resistance was so slight that no mortar support was needed. Meanwhile, on Mar 29 at 1740, A Co crossed the 1,986-foot pontoon bridge at Mainz. That night the company stayed in Wiesbaden in luxurious dwellings, but was soon off again on a rapid advance toward Kassel. The nights were spent in houses, and in every position, there was the usual mad rush for eggs and then for the best bed. By Apr 5, the company had passed through and beyond Kassel.
On Apr 1, the battalion rear followed A Co’s route over the bridge at Mainz. With the situation changing so rapidly, and the forward elements moving at such a fast pace, it was necessary for the weapons companies to be on the road almost 24 hours a day in order to remain in close support of the 80-ID and 65-ID. The Reichsautobahns provided an excellent route of attack for the allied steamroller. The battalion CP also made one-night stands through Eifa, Mosheim, and Gotha, finally setting up for a few days at Weimar. A Co, still attached to the 80-ID, fired its first mission east of the Rhine on Apr 9, registering on the town of Tottelstadt. The next day, several successful missions were fired. The first platoon, located in the town of Ermstedt, spotted 50 of the enemy approaching the town. The mortars opened up at a range of 675 yards, killing or wounding at least 15 Germans; the remainder were captured by the infantry. The same day, the 2nd plat fired close to 150 rounds of WP on the town of Salomonsborn, burning most of the town and routing the enemy.
The next few days were marked by long jeep rides; many pistols and other souvenirs were secured; roads were clogged with German prisoners, liberated soldiers, and displaced persons. The company passed through several fairly large cities. The first platoon fired 70 rounds into Erfurt and then entered the city on April 12. The 2nd platoon reached Weimar the same day. The following day found A Company in the famous glass manufacturing city of Jena; by the 16th the company reached the outskirts of Chemnitz.
C Co was attached on Apr 14 to the 76-ID, which drove eastward through Mulhausen and Langensalza. At this time, the 76-ID was closer to Berlin than any other unit of the US Army. The general route of advance was directly east, passing north of Erfurt through Apolda, Zeitz, and Altenburg, then on towards Dresden to Lunzenau. Resistance was light, although one town was heavily shelled after it refused to surrender when issued an ultimatum. The guns were laid directly on the town from the mortar position while signal corps photographers took movies of the action. Intermittent strafing and bombing of towns and moving columns by enemy planes continued. On or about Apr 18, Patton swung his forces south, using Chemnitz for a hinge, and headed toward the Danube River and Austria. The XX Corps boundary changed and the mortar companies took part in the drive to the south.
A Co traveled all night on Apr 18 to join the 71-ID to which it was attached at Bamberg. The new plan was to drive south to the Danube, cross it, and then head for the so-called National Redoubt. A slight amount of opposition was met at Regenstauf where the bridge across the Regen River had been blown. Mortars were set up near a warehouse full of prefabricated parts for airplanes and missions fired on the woods southeast of the town. The Regen River was crossed that night, while the company was staying in Regenstauf. The next day the woods north of the Danube River were cleared, and the Danube reached by nightfall. As the infantry was crossing the river in assault boats, some of the company’s HE commenced to land a few hundred yards in front of them. The inexperienced dough boys jumped from the boats into the stream, as this was their first contact with 4.2 shells.
On Apr 26, A Co fired 489 rounds in support of the Danube River crossing and the assault on Regensburg. A smoke screen was laid, HE and WP missions fired at the enemy dug-in along the river and at troops trying to escape from the city. The company crossed the Danube at 0145 hours on April 27, and set up just south of the river, close to the target area of the previous day, about four miles east of Regensburg. Enemy dead lay where they had fallen and equipment was scattered everywhere. While in the process of moving south, C Co stopped at Apolda. Many of the men had an opportunity to visit the Buchenwald Concentration Camp near Weimar. Here, as in Ohrdruf, was concrete evidence of the inhumanity of the Nazi machine. The move south was made through Coburg, to a town near Bauking, from which the drive continued cross-country towards Austria. The attachment was changed to the 71-ID, which the company supported until the end of hostilities. Just prior to this, S/Sgt Conroy of C Co received a battlefield commission as 2nd Lt. The company passed near Nurnberg on its way down to the Danube, northeast of Regensburg. Here a crossing was easily made. Straubing and Landau came next. At Landau, the Isar River was crossed by means of a wrecked railroad bridge. The drive met negligible resistance and continued straight on towards Austria. As the battalion neared the Austrian border, all companies were attached to the 71-ID. A Co and C Co crossed the Inn River on successive days, May 2 and 3. The FO for A Co observed enemy personnel digging in near the river, obviously intending to defend it, but after nine HE shells landed nearby they soon abandoned this idea. A smoke screen was laid, which contributed to the successful crossing of the river. This was the last mission that A Co fired in the European war.
Passing Wels, the company continued on to the Enns River, there to await the Russians and V-E Day. The final combat positions of A Co were in Garsten and Ternberg, Austria, for the 1st and 2nd platoons, respectively.
On May 3 at 1435, the 1st plat, C Co, crossed the Inn River into Austria, near the town of Ernig. The 2nd platoon followed foot troops, crossed a little later over a hydro-electric dam which served as a bridge. The company moved on in the same general direction and crossed the Traun River, near Lambach, on Apr 5. The previous evening, a few rounds were fired at a column of retreating Germans, but for fear of destroying a bridge a cease fire order was given. The night of May 5 found the whole company near the Enns River, the boundary between the US and Russian troops. The battalion command post crossed into Austria over the Inn River on May 4. At the cessation of hostilities on May 8, 1945, the battalion, less B Co, was along the Enns River, one of the meeting points between the American and Russian forces. In the fight for liberation of Europe, the 4.2 mortars of the 81st had fired 212,572 rounds. The war in Europe was over ! The day everyone had been waiting for had arrived. The long, hard, bloody road from the beaches of Normandy, across the continent of Europe, was ended. Every man celebrated in his own way, but in the hearts and minds of each and every one was a thought for those comrades who had given their lives to make this day possible.
Shortly after V-E Day, the battalion was detailed on military government work in Austria and Germany. The battalion was for a time the occupying force in Braunau, Hitler’s birthplace, and neighboring towns. While there, the battalion was attached to the 5th Field Artillery Group, the companies occupying the towns of Degerndorf, Brannenburg, Oberaudorf, Raubling, and Redenfelden, near Rosensheim, in the Bavarian Alps. Some members of the battalion were sent home for discharge under the point system. The rest were “sweating it out.” But no matter where the future finds them, the men of the 81st will always be as they have been in the past, “Equal to the Task!”
81st Mortar Chemical Battalion (M) Appendix
81st Chem Bn – ETO – 1942-1945
– Recapitulation of casualties
– Ammunition expenditure
– Prisoners of War
– Combat days and rest periods
– Commendation from V Corps
– Commendation from 90th Infantry Division
Recapitulation of casualties
The following is a recapitulation of casualties for the 81-CMB from the June 6 1944 to May 8 1945 :
– 33 Killed in Action : 7 Officers and 26 Enlisted
– 8 Died of Wounds : 3 Officers and 5 Enlisted
– 4 Prisoners of War : 2 Officers and 2 Enlisted
– 34 Seriously Wounded : 8 Officers and 26 Enlisted
– 109 Slightly Wounded : 8 Officers and 101 Enlisted
– 5 Seriously Injured : 1 Officer and 4 Enlisted
– 9 Slightly Injured : 0 Officer and 9 Enlisted
– Totals 202 : 29 Officers and 173 Enlisted
– Non-battle casualties 216 : 20 Officers and 196 Enlisted
Divisions supported by companies of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion :
1-A, V Corps
1st Infantry Division
2nd Infantry Division
5th Infantry Division
35th Infantry Division
80th Infantry Division
1-A, XIX Corps
4th Infantry Division
28th Infantry Division
29th Infantry Division
30th Infantry Division
90th Infantry Division
3-A, XX Corps
5th Infantry Division
7th Armored Division
10th Armored Division
26th Infantry Division
65th Infantry Division
71st Infantry Division
76th Infantry Division
80th Infantry Division
83rd Infantry Division
90th Infantry Division
94th Infantry Division
95th Infantry Division
The following is a recapitulation of ammunition expenditure from June 6 1944 to May 8 1945, inclusive :
A Company : 48020 rounds : 30685 HE – 17335 WP
B Company : 63626 rounds : 30011 HE – 33615 WP
C Company : 60585 rounds : 36889 HE – 23329 WP – 367 FS
D Company : 40431 rounds : 19509 HE – 30832 WP (*)
Totals : 212572 rounds : 117094 HE – 95111 WP – 367 FS
(*) D Co was disbanded Feb 22 1945
Prisoners of war
The companies of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion captured the following number of prisoners between June 6 1944 and May 8 1945, inclusive :
Company Officers Captured
10 – Hq Co
5 – A Co
0 – B Co
3 – C Co
0 – D Co
Total : 18
Enlisted Men Captured
238 – Hq Co
126 – A Co
185 – B Co
376 – C Co
17 – D Co
Total – 942
Note : The number of prisoners taken by the weapons companies is much higher than shown, but only those shown on historical records are in the total. It is estimated that an additional 1,000 prisoners were taken by the companies and immediately turned over to the infantry to be marched back to a cage.
Combat days and rest periods
The number of days each company was on line :
A Company – 313 Days
B Company B – 297 Days
C Company – 318 Days
D Company – 246 Days
Rest periods and places for each company :
– St Martin Don, France : 7-10 Aug, 4 days
– Ger, France : 17-19 Aug, 3 days
– Sees, France : 23-24 Aug, 2 days
– Porcher, France : 24 Sep-1 Oct, 8 days
– Morfontaine, France: 3-6 Nov, 4 days
– Urweiler, Germany : 25-26 Mar, 2 days
– Total 23 days
– St Martin Don, France : 7-10 Aug, 3 days
– Ger, France : 17-19 Aug, 3 days
– Sees, France : 23-24 Aug, 2 days
– Brehain-la-Ville, France : 4-6 Nov, 3 days
– Urweiler, Germany : 25-26 Mar, 2 days
– Total 13 days
– St Martin Don, France : 5-9 Aug, 5 days
– Ger, France : 17-19 Aug, 3 days
– Sees, France : 23-24 Aug, 2 days
– Bièvres, France : 27-28 Aug, 2 days; 20-22 Sep, 3 days
– Leitersweiler, Germany : 25-27 Mar, 3 days
– Total 18 days
– St Martin Don, France : 7-12 Aug, 6 days
– Ger, France : 17-19 Aug, 3 days
– Sees, France : 21-24 Aug, 4 days
– Bièvres, France : 27-28 Aug, 2 days
– Disbanded 22 Feb 1945
– Total 15 Days
HEADQUARTERS V Corps
Office of the Commanding General
SUBJECT : Commendation
TO : Commanding Officer, 81st Chemical Battalion
THRU : Commanding General, First US Army, APO 230
(1). Upon relief of the 81st Chemical Battalion from attachment to the V Corps, I desire to express to you, and through you to the officers and men of your command, my thanks and appreciation for the excellent manner in which they functioned while under this corps.
(2). The record of the 81st Chemical Battalion during the campaign for Western Europe has been indeed an enviable one. The battalion entered combat with this corps on D Day and has served uninterruptedly with it for 104 days. It was in the line continuously for the first 60 days of combat. Notwithstanding the unfortunate loss of its commanding officer and a large portion of its equipment during the landing on the French Coast, it has at all times been ready for any mission which it has been called upon to perform. It participated in the decisive assault on Hill 192 on 11 July 1944 and its effective support of the 2nd Infantry Division contributed in a large measure to the success of that attack. It has operated in support of artillery as well as infantry. Elements of the battalion during the above period have been attached to ten different divisions. It has sustained more than 100 casualties, and 53 of its members have received individual decorations. It has won the coveted Presidential Unit Citation for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy.
(3). No words of mine could add to the prestige of an organization with such a record. It is indeed a history of which any organization of the United States Army can be justly proud. I accept its loss to the corps with regret. My best wishes for your continued success go with each and every one of you.
EDWARD H. BROOKS
Major General, US Army
HEADQUARTERS 90TH INFANTRY DIVISION
Office of the Commanding General
APO 90, US Army
19 January 1945
SUBJECT : Commendation
TO : Commanding Officer, 81st Chemical Battalion, APO 403, US Army
THRU : Commanding General, Third US Army, APO 403, US Army
(1). Companies “A,” “B” and “C” of the 81st Chemical Battalion rendered extremely valuable services to this division from 20 August, 1944 to 7 January, 1945.
(2). During the Maizières-les-Metz operations Company “A” fired a total of 12,054 rounds HE and WP from 15 October to 1 November, aiding materially in the capture of that town. During the Moselle River crossing Company “A” fired a total of 4,537 rounds of WP and HE from 9 November to 18 November. During one twenty-four hour period this company maintained a smoke screen about two thousand yards wide during daylight hours in addition to other missions called by the supported unit. During period from 8 October to 4 November, Company “B” fired a total of 8,447 rounds of WP and HE in the Gravelotte area.
(3). In the Saar River crossing 6 December to 22 December, 1944, “B” and “C” Companies rendered most valuable services. Especially were these companies helpful in this action with their highly successful smoking operations. During this action “B” Company fired a total of 23,886 and “C” Company fired a total of 17,862 rounds of HE and WP.
(4). The exemplary manner in which officers and enlisted men of this battalion have supported the 90th Infantry Division under all types of weather, terrain and enemy action has been outstanding. The constant close cooperation of Lt Col Jack W. Lipphardt, Battalion Commander, and his staff, was of the highest type.
(5). The support furnished by these companies of the 81st Chemical Battalion contributed greatly to the successes of the 90th Infantry Division. Their future assignment in support of this division would be most welcome.
J. A. VAN FLEET
Major General, U.S. Army