For their exploits, the men from I&R Platoon, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division, would later become the most heavily decorated platoon for a single action in World War II. Their incredible story is a prime example of how tactical intelligence leaders and soldiers should be able to accomplish any mission required in combat.
On December 16 1944, at 0530, Germany commenced its last great offensive of World War II against the US Army lines flanked in the woods along the German Reich’s border. This crucial battle, known as the Battle of the Bulge, lasted until Jan 28 1945, but the majority of the heavy fighting occurred during the month of December and was among the most ferocious of the entire war. This campaign produced many acts of bravery and demonstrated the courageous character of the American fighting spirit. One of the most gallant combat actions was that of an intelligence and reconnaissance I&R Platoon defense in Lanzerath, Belgium, on the first day of the battle.
1 – The Combat Infantry Badge
Paragraph 2/6, Army Regulation 600/8/22
– 1 : The Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) was established by the War Department on Oct 27 1943. Lt Gen Leslie J. McNair, then Army Ground Forces Commanding General (CG-AGF), was instrumental in its creation. He originally recommended that it be called the fighter badge. The CIB was designed to enhance morale and the prestige of the Queen of Battle. Then Secretary of War Henry Stimson said, it is high time we recognize in a personal way the skill and heroism of the American infantry.
– 2 : Originally, the Regimental Commander was the lowest level at which the CIB could be approved and its award was retroactive to Dec 7 1941. There was a separate provision for badge holders to receive a $10 per month pay stipend, which was rescinded in 1948. Several factors led to the creation of the CIB, some of the most prominent factors are as follows :
(a) : The need for large numbers of well-trained infantry to bring about a successful conclusion to the war and the already critical shortage of infantrymen.
(b) : Of all soldiers, it was recognized that the infantryman continuously operated under the worst conditions and performed a mission which was not assigned to any other soldier or unit.
(c) : The infantry, a small portion of the total Armed Forces, was suffering the most casualties while receiving the least public recognition.
(d) : Gen Marshall’s well known affinity for the ground forces soldier and, in particular, the infantryman. All these factors led to the establishment of the CIB, an award which would provide special recognition of the unique role of the Army infantryman, the only soldier whose daily mission is to close with and destroy the enemy and to seize and hold terrain. The badge was intended as an inducement for individuals to join the infantry while serving as a morale booster for infantrymen serving in every theater.
– 3 : In developing the CIB, the War Department did not dismiss out of hand or ignore the contributions of other branches. Their vital contributions to the overall war effort were certainly noted, but it was decided that other awards and decorations were sufficient to recognize their contributions. From the beginning, Army leaders have taken care to retain the badge for the unique purpose for which it was established and to prevent the adoption of any other badge which would lower its prestige. At the close of World War II, our largest war in which the armor and artillery played key roles in the ground campaigns, a review was conducted of the CIB criteria with consideration being given to creating either additional badges or authorizing the badge to cavalry and armor units. The review noted that any change in policy would detract from the prestige of the badge.
– 1 : There are basically three requirements for award of the CIB. The soldier must be an infantryman satisfactorily performing infantry duties, must be assigned to an infantry unit during such time as the unit is engaged in active ground combat, and must actively participate in such ground combat. Campaign or battle credit alone is not sufficient for award of the CIB.
– 2 : The definition or requirement to be “engaged in active ground combat” has generated much dialog over the years as to the original intent of the CIB.
(a) : The 1943 War Department Circular required infantrymen to demonstrate satisfactory performance of duty in action against the enemy. The operative words in action connoted actual combat. A War Department determination in October 1944 specified that action against the enemy for purposes of award of the CIB was to be interpreted as ground combat against enemy ground forces.
Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon
Definition 1 : Reconnaissance
Reconnaissance, also known as scouting, is a military term for performing a preliminary survey; especially an exploratory military survey to gain, or collect information. Primarily, it refers to preliminary reconnaissance; reconnaissance used to determine the enemy forces disposition and intention; gathering information about an enemy’s composition and capabilities, along with the lay of the land and weather conditions through direct observation. Reconnaissance is generally an intelligence-gathering asset of human intelligence, under the intelligence cycle of intelligence collection management. Examples of reconnaissance include patrolling by troops (rangers, scouts, or military intelligence specialists), ships or submarines, manned/unmanned aircraft, or by setting up covert observation posts. Espionage normally is not reconnaissance, because reconnaissance is a military force’s operating ahead of its main forces; spies are non-combatants operating behind enemy lines. The term reconnaissance, is also used in civilian applications, e.g. in the fields of science and engineering. In geology : The “examination or survey of the general geological characteristics of a region”.
Definition 2 : Intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions. This is achieved by providing an assessment of available data from a wide range of sources, directed towards the commanders’ mission requirements or responding to focused questions as part of the operational or campaign planning activity. In order to provide an informed analysis, the commander’s information requirements are first identified. These information requirements are then incorporated into a process of intelligence collection, analysis and dissemination. Areas of study may include the operational environment, hostile, friendly and neutral forces, the civilian population in an area of combat operations, and other, broader areas of interest. Intelligence activities are conducted at all levels, from tactical to strategic, in peacetime, the period of transition to war, and during a war itself. Most governments maintain a military intelligence capability to provide analytical and information collection personnel in both specialist units and from other arms and services. The military intelligence capabilities will interact with civilian intelligence capabilities to inform the spectrum of political and military activities. Personnel selected for intelligence duties may be selected for their analytical abilities and personal intelligence before receiving formal training.
Organization of an I&R Platoon
During World War Two, in the US Army, one I&R Platoon (Intelligence & Reconnaissance Platoon) was organic to each Infantry Regiment. The 25 soldiers in the platoon consisted of two 9-man Reconnaissance Squads and one 7-man Headquarters Section who worked in the regimental S-2 section. The primary mission of the I&R Platoon is to serve as the special intelligence agency at a regimental level as well as with the regimental Commanding Officer for the collection of information under the supervision of the regimental intelligence officer (S-2). To accomplish this mission and to provide the regimental commander with vital information of the enemy, the platoon must operate patrols, man observation posts, and coordinate the intelligence activities of the regiment. In simpler terms they were the eyes and ears of the regiment. On the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon or the 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division, had been ordered to take their observation positions in a couple large foxholes situated at the northern side of the town of Lanzerath, Belgium, just along the route leading to the small Buchholz Railroad Station. There, the platoon faced the entirely different mission of direct combat.
The untested 99th Infantry Division (Checkerboard Division) or Battle Babies and its three subordinate regiments (393-IR, 394-IR, 395-IR) entered the front line in the quiet Belgian Ardennes sector in mid-November 1944. The 394th’s I&R platoon leader, the 20 years old First Lt Lyle J. Bouck, Jr., and several of his men were among the first group in the regiment to receive the Combat Infantryman’s Badge for actions during one of their initial patrols. Until early December, they conducted numerous reconnaissance patrols and manned various observation posts. On Dec 10 1944, the regimental commander, Col Don Riley, sent the entire 18-man platoon to the vicinity of Lanzerath to observe the area and provide warning of enemy movement on the regiment’s right flank.
I&R Platoon, 394th Inf Regt, 99th Inf Div
– Lt Lyle J. Bouck Jr
– T/Sgt William L. Slape
– Pfc William James Tsakanikas
– Pfc Risto “Milo” Milsovech
– Pvt Robert D. Adams
– Pvt Robert D. Baasch
– Sgt William D. Dustman
– Pvt Clifford R. Fansher
– T/3 James Fort
– Cpl Samuel L. Jenkins
– Pvt Joseph A. McConnell
– Cpl Robert H. “Mop” Preston
– Sgt George H. “Pappy” Redmond
– Pvt John B. Creger
– Pvt Louis J. Kalil
– Cpl Aubrey P. “Schnoz” McGeehee
– Pfc Jordan H. “Pop” Robinson
– Pvt James R. “Sil” Silvola
The assigned position also coincided with the 99-ID right boundary with the V Corps. To the south was the 14th Cavalry Group of the VIII Corps. The location the I&R platoon chose was in the wood line northwest of the small village of Lanzerath, almost beside the road leading to Buchholz (Buchholz Station). This was actually across the corps boundary, but Lt Bouck was not aware of this. The position offered a very good observation to the highway (Hasenvenn), which ran through Lanzerath coming, south, from Kehr, Krewinkel, Afts, Berterath and Manderfeld and souteast from Hullscheid, Hergesberg and Merlscheid. This main road was leading to the north over the Railway Tracks to Losheimergraben (the Losheimer Gap). This area was also the main defensive positions of the regiment. In the tree line, Bouck’s soldiers found well-dug foxholes left by another American unit and over the next five days the platoon improved its position, developed a strong defensive plan, sent out patrols, and ran a communication line to the regimental command post.
However, it conducted little coordination with a tank destroyer section (2nd Plat, A Co, 820th TDB, 14th Cavalry Group) which had set up in Lanzerath about 200 yards to the southeast. The I&R platoon also gathered many weapons to supplement its authorized M-1 rifles. These weapons included .30 Cal Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR), a .30-caliber Browning light machine gun with a great amount of ammunition and hand grenades. In addition, the platoon brought its one organic weapon, a .50 Cal Browning heavy machine gun, mounted on one of its seven jeeps. On Dec 16, 1944 the platoon thus had a sustained firepower capability which was essential to its defense.
In the early morning of December 16, the German army commenced its attack with a huge rolling artillery barrage which lasted about two hours.
[ … Suddenly, without warning, a barrage of artillery registered at about 0530 and continued until about 0700. The artillery was relentless and frightening, but not devastating. Much landed short, wide and long of our position, and mostly tree bursts. At any rate, our well-protected cover prevented casualties. The telephone lines were knocked out, but our one radio allowed us to report to regiment. I called regiment and told them that the TDs are pulling out, what should we do ? The answer was loud and clear : “Hold at all costs !” … ]
Lt Lyle J. Bouck Jr
By SCR-300 radio, the regiment ordered them to maintain their position and to send a patrol down to Lanzerath (James Fort, William Slape, John Creger and Bouck). The patrol observed the German held town of Losheim (1 mile into Germany), to the east, from the upstairs of one of the houses in Lanzerath. Soon they saw a large German formation emerge out of the fog marching to the southwest. If this German unit turned north at the first major intersection, they would march through Lanzerath on the road directly in front of I&R platoon’s position and into the unprotected flank of the regiment. After observing the size of the German force, Bouck and Fort scrambled back to the ridge leaving Slape and Creger alone in the observation post. Creger radioed Bouck and told him the Germans were heading north to the ridge. Bouck sent Jordan Robinson, Audrey McGeehee and James Silvola to assist Creger. Before the three men reached Creger, he left the village using a more direct route. As he returned to the American lines, he engaged and killed or wounded most of a German platoon. On the eastern side of the road, Robinson, McGeehee and Silvola attempted to rejoin their platoon, but found the way blocked by German soldiers who threatened to flank them. They decided to head for Losheimergraben and seek reinforcements. They crossed a 20 feet (6.1 m) deep railroad cut and once on the far side encountered soldiers from Fusilier Regiment 27. of the 12. Volksgrenadierdivision. Trying to outflank the 1st Bn, 394th Infantry Regiment in Losheimergraben, they spotted the three men. After a brief firefight, Robinson and McGeehee were wounded and all three were captured.
The platoon’s telephone land line to 1st Bn Hqs (394) in Losheimergraben was knocked out, but their SCR-300 radio still worked. Bouck reached Regimental HQs at Hünningen on the radio and requested permission to withdraw and engage in a delaying action. He was told again to “remain in position and reinforcements from the 3rd Bn (394) will come to support”. So Bouck ordered his men to their foxholes. He believed their strong defensive arrangement might be able to delay the Germans. He also called for artillery fire on the marching column as it turned north, but there was no support available due to German attacks throughout the division sector. Four members of a Forward Observation Team from C Bat, 371st FAB had been in the village when the Tank Destroyer unit withdrew :
– Lt Warren Springer
– Sgt Peter Gacki
– T/4 Willard Wibben
– T/5 Billy Queen
These men joined Bouck’s unit on the ridge where they could continue to observe the enemy movement. Bouck distributed them among the foxholes to help reload magazines and reinforce their position. As the column marched through the tiny town of Lanzerath, Bouck allowed a small group of soldiers to pass and march to the north. He recognized the Germans’ uniforms as belonging to a paratrooper unit. As the main body arrived and halted, Bouck noticed three men, one of whom appeared to be the commander. But before I&R platoon was able to commence firing on the German force, a teenage girl ran out of a house to the command group and stated something to them while pointing in the general direction of the I&R position. A German then quickly barked an order to the column, and they dove into roadside ditches. The Americans had held their fire because of the presence of the girl, and thus lost an excellent opportunity to ambush the column. Fire erupted almost immediately from both positions. The battle of Lanzerath had begun.
The German infantry deployed and about two platoons attacked the Americans head-on, bunched together in the open and charging straight up the hill, directly at the platoon’s fortified position. Bouck’s men were surprised at the inexperienced tactics. It was like “shooting clay ducks at an amusement park”. Several attackers were killed trying to climb over the 4 feet hight (1.2 m) barbed wire fence that bisected the field, often shot at close range with a single shot to the heart or head. Lt Springer used his jeep-mounted SCR-610 radio to call in coordinates for artillery fire. A few shells landed near the road outside Lanzerath, but they did not hinder the German attack. His jeep was then struck by machine gun fire or mortar shrapnel and his radio was destroyed. Slape and Milosevich fired continually, as fast as they could reload. Slape thought the Germans were mad to attack in such a suicidal manner, straight across the open field. He later recalled that it was one of the “most beautiful fields of fire” he had ever seen. After only about 30 seconds, the firing stopped. Nearly all of the attacking Germans had been killed or wounded. McConnell, shot in the shoulder, was the only American casualty.
During a second attack made around 1100, Milosevich fired the .50 Cal jeep-mounted machine gun until enemy fire drove him back into his foxhole. In both the first and second attack that morning no German soldier got past the fence in the middle of the field. Bodies were piled around it. German medics waved a white flag late in the morning and indicated they wanted to remove the wounded, which the I&R defenders allowed. Bouck’s men again suffered only one wounded on the second attack. Pvt Kalil was struck in the face by a rifle grenade that failed to explode.
The Germans mounted a third attack late in the afternoon, around 1500. Several times German soldiers attempted to penetrate the American lines. The Americans left their foxholes and in close combat fired on the attackers to push them back down the hill. At one point Milsovech spotted a medic working on and talking to a soldier he felt certain was already dead. As mortar fire on his position got more accurate, Milsovech noticed a pistol on the supposed medic’s belt, and decided he must be calling in fire on their position. He shot and killed him. Bouck contacted Regimental Headquarters once more, seeking reinforcements. At 1550, Fort sent the unit’s last update to Regimental Headquarters in Hünningen. He reported they were still receiving some artillery fire but were holding their position against an estimated enemy strength of about 75, who were attempting to advance from Lanzerath towards the railroad to the northwest.
As dusk approach and their ammunition ran dangerously low, Bouck feared they could be flanked at any time. He planned to pull his men back just before dusk, when they would have enough light to escape through the woods. Bouck ordered his men to remove the distributor caps from their Jeeps and to prepare to evacuate to the rear. He dispatched Jenkins and Preston through the woods to locate Maj Kriz at Regimental HQ and seek instructions or reinforcements. Bouck tried to contact Regimental headquarters on the SCR-300 radio for instructions. A sniper shot the radio as Bouck held it to his ear. The sniper also hit the SCR-284 radio mounted in the Jeep behind Bouck, eliminating any possibility of calling for reinforcements or instructions. The German troops were reluctant to attack head on once again. So, about 50 men from the 12th Volksgrenadierdivision (FusReg.27) were dispatched to attack I&R’s southern flank through the woods. Just as Bouck was about to blow his whistle to indicate withdrawal, German soldiers penetrated their lines and began overrunning their foxholes. Several attackers were killed by grenades rigged to wires and triggered by Americans in their foxholes. Each of the positions spread out over the ridge top were overrun in turn. The Germans moved to each foxhole clearing them out as they went. A German soldier fired into Bouck’s position hitting the lieutenant in the leg and seriously wounding his foxhole mate in the face. Every platoon member became a prisoner, except one who was killed in action.
The engagement at Lanzerath was over but its effect was astounding. The 18 men of I&R Plat had inflicted between 400 and 500 casualties, decimating an entire battalion of the 3. Fallschirmajägerdivision. The platoon had halted the mission of the paratroopers to rapidly break through the American front and allow armored units of the German main effort the 6. SS Panzer Army immediate access to open roads toward the Meuse River. On the night of December 16, the 9. Fallschirmjägerregiment in Lanzerath failed to continue to the west. They feared heavy resistance from American defenses such as they had encountered from I&R Plat. Just after 2400, SS-Obersturmbannführer Peiper, commander of the 1. SS-Panzerregiment, 1. SS-Panzerdivision the spearhead of the 6. SS-Panzerarmy’s drive for Antwerp arrived in Lanzerath. He had been delayed by horrendous road traffic, blown bridges, and the tenacious defensive operations by the units of the 394th Inf Regt, including I&R platoon. Irritated at the lack of progress, Peiper ordered his force forward at about 0400, some 18 hours behind schedule. The delay altered the crucial timetable for Peiper and other Panzer units and this situation allowed the US Army valuable time to counter the German main thrust in the north. Although Peiper’s unit progressed the furthest of any 6. SS-Panzer element, the Americans defeated the remainder of the German divisions in what became the critical northern shoulder of the Bulge. The Germans shifted their main effort to their 5. Army to the south for the remainder of the campaign.
The tiny I&R platoon had been the anchor of the 394th Regiment’s and 99th Division’s front-line defense on December 16 1944. Without their heroic stand, the battalion of German paratroopers they defeated would have attacked into the flank of the 1/394th Infantry Regiment, which was defending the vital road junction at Losheimergraben. Perhaps they would have turned northwest against the regiment’s understrength 3/394th instead. This would have reinforced the 12. SS-Panzer Division’s offensive against these positions and probably overwhelmed the southern flank of the 99th Infantry Division on the first day. Panzer exploitations of this opening in a quick drive to the Meuse River thus would have been possible.
Due to the capture of I&R platoon soldiers and the blur of events during the first week of this massive campaign, the US Army did not recognize the platoon for its courageous deeds for 37 years. In 1969, John S. D. Eisenhower, a participant in the campaign and son of the Supreme Allied Commander, published The Bitter Woods which detailed the platoon’s bravery. In the late 1970s, congressional and presidential interest, and an article by columnist Jack Anderson, focused on the Army’s oversight of the platoon’s actions. Finally, in Oct 1981, the Army awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for Extraordinary Heroism to I&R platoon. Lt Bouck and three other men received the Distinguished Service Cross, five others the Silver Star, and the nine remaining platoon members who fought at Lanzerath received the Bronze Star with a Valor Device. The platoon thus became World War II’s most decorated for a single enemy engagement.
One historian succinctly summarized I&R platoon’s exploits stating,
‘I&R platoon’s action exemplifies the determination of the American soldier and what he can do when properly prepared, motivated, and led.’ Their conduct offers military intelligence soldiers and leaders a superb example of the initiative, adaptability, and bravery necessary when faced with any combat situation.
John R. Finch, Lt Col, US Army (Retired) and Maj George J. Mordica II, Miracles : A Platoon’s Heroic Stand at Lanzerath, in Combined Arms in Battle Since 1939 (Fort Leavenworth, Kansas : US Army Command and General Staff College Press, 1992)
Table of Organization and Equipment 7-12, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Infantry Regiment (Washington DC : War Department, 26 February 1944) Organization, Equipment, and Tactical Employment of the Infantry Division (United States Forces, European Theater, The General Board, 1945)
Because of their unit name, primary mission, subordination under the regimental S2, and focused training in reconnaissance and surveillance, World War II officers considered I&R platoon members as intelligence soldiers. Although most were basic infantrymen, they went through rigorous tactical intelligence scouting, patrolling, and observation training. Some units sent their I&R platoons through the Division Intelligence Course at the Military Intelligence Training Center, Camp Ritchie, Maryland. The platoon often consisted of the brightest and most physically fit soldiers in the regiment. In 1944, many soldiers from the Army Specialized Training Program filled the ranks of I&R platoons throughout the Army.
Special Orders Number 240 (Belgium, APO 449, U.S. Army: 394th Infantry, 22 November 1944)
Charles B. McDonald, A Time for Trumpets : The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge, The Greatest Single Victory in US Army History (New York : William Morrow and Company, 1985)
John S. D. Eisenhower, The Bitter Woods : The Dramatic Story Told at All Echelons, from Supreme Commander to Squad Leader, of the Crisis That Shook the Western Coalition Hitler’s Surprise Ardenne Offensive (New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969)
Gerald Astor, A Blood-Dimmed Tide : The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It (New York : Dell Publishing, 1992)
General Orders Number 26 (Washington D.C. : Headquarters, Department of the Army, 29 October 1981)