The History of the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion in Training and Combat, Prepared by and for the Men who saw Action with the Battalion in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany. Headquarters – 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion – APO No 758 US Army – 9 May, 1945. To all the Members of the Battalion
As I write this little message to you, my comrades of the 628th, the war in Europe has just ended; and in my heart there is both joy and sadness. There is great joy for those of you who have gotten through this hell, sound of mind and body; but there is a deep sadness for our men and officers who have fallen. In all humility, I salute our lads who are no longer with us. In all instances they died willingly as do men for a cause that is just and right : and they died bravely as can only an American soldier. We, their buddies who served by their side shall always remember them with a sweet reverence which can be felt only by comrades in arms. It is my earnest prayer that the peace, for which the Conference at San Francisco strives, will be so lasting and honest, that none of our splendid men shall have died in vain. And I salute, too, those of you who have gone through the many strenuous months of combat with this Battalion. The amazing amount of enemy material and men which you blasted out of the war is but a tribute to your courage and skill at arms. The break-through in Normandy, the Falaise Gap, the Eure and Seine Pockets, the Compiègne Forest, Sedan, Wallendorf and the Hürtgen Forest till the Ardennes Battle, the Rhineland, Germany’s Heart and then the crashing offensive to the very banks of the Elbe River, all these duel countless minor battles and campaigns you can, in the years to come remember with a quiet pride. Whether it is your destiny soon to return to civilian life, or to help finish off our one remaining enemy, the Jap, I wish you luck and Godspeed. Believe me, it has been a grand privilege and an honor to have commanded such a fine Battalion in combat. Again, I salute you all, and I shall never forget you.
William J. Gallagher
Lt Col, F. A.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full assault of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom … – and that government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
(Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address)
History of the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion
Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania
In 1941 Gen Drum, then Commanding General of the First United States Army, decided to form six provisional anti-tank battalions for experimental purposes to be tested in the First Army Maneuvers held in North and South Carolina in October and November 1941. The 28th Infantry Division, the Pennsylvania’s National Guard and the Keystone Division, which had been federalized and on active service at Indiantown Gap Military Reservation since February 17 1941, was one of the six divisions ordered to form a provisional anti-tank battalion. Gen Martin, CG of the 28th Infantry Division, issued orders whereby the personnel of the 53rd Field Artillery Brigade Headquarters, 107th Field Artillery Regiment, 108th Field Artillery Regiment, 109th Field Artillery Regiment, 109th Infantry Regiment, 110th Infantry Regiment, 111th Infantry Regiment, 112th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Engineer Regiment and 103rd Medical Regiment were transferred for this purpose. On July 10, the 28th Division Anti-tank Battalion (provisional) was formed under the command of the then Maj Carl L. Peterson and moved into its first quarters at Tent City, Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. In addition to Maj Carl Peterson, 112th Infantry Regiment, as battalion commander, the original 12-IR Staff was composed of Capt, William P. Davis, l08th Field Artillery, Battalion Executive Officer and S-3; 1/Lt Thomas B. Roelofs, 112th Infantry, Adjutant and S-l; Capt John J. Gilfilan, Headquarters 28th Infantry Division Intelligence Officer and S-2; and 2/Lt, William Young, 107th Field Artillery, Supply Officer and S-4.
Headquarters Battery was commanded by 1/Lt Joseph A. Patalive 108th Field Artillery, who was both Battery Commander and Battalion Communications Officer. Other officers were 2/Lt Richard H. Reeve, 108th Field Artillery, Battalion Motor Officer, and 2/Lt Robert H. Meisenbelter, 108th Field Artillery, Battalion Personnel Officer. A Battery had 1/Lt Marcus L. Hoover, 111th Infantry, a Battery Commander, with 2/Lt Eugene Swanheart, 109th Field Artillery, 2/Lt Robert L. Ivey, 107th Field Artillery and 2/Lt Richard J. Fitzgerald, 111th Infantry, as Battery Officers. B Battery was formed with 1/Lt Charles A. Corcoran, l07th Field Artillery, as Battery Commander, assisted by 1/Lt Leonard Dotson, l08th Field Artillery, 2/Lt Daniel L. Thomas, l09th Field Artillery, and 2/Lt Jessie B. Schooley, 109th Field Artillery. C Battery had 1/Lt Robert Gaynor, l09th Infantry, as Battery Commander with 1/Lt Thomas W. Scott Jr., 110th Infantry, and 2/Lt John S. Wright, 55th Infantry Brigade Headquarters, as Battery Officer.
D Battery included Capt Harry A. Overholtzer, 108th Field Artillery, as Battery Commander, and 1/Lt William J. Gallagher, 108th Field Artillery, 2/Lt James H. Lloyd, 108th Field Artillery, and 2/Lt John B. Stokes, l08th Field Artillery. E Battery had Capt William B. Munhall, 107th Field Artillery, as Battery Commander, assisted by 2/Lt Hampton C. Randolph, 108th Field Artillery, and 2/Lt Capt James Clement, l08th Field Artillery. Medical Detachment included Capt Donaldson, 103rd Medical Regiment as initial Detachment Commander, assisted by 1/Lt Eugene W. Hodgson, 103rd Medical Regiment, who later became Battalion Surgeon, and 1/Lt Charles Perleman, l03rd Medical Regiment, as Battalion Dentist.
Early in the Battalion’s history Baker Co, 103rd Engineer Regiment under Capt Maurada, assisted by 1/Lt Forrest Bocock and 2/Lt Stanislas Starzinski, were attached to the battalion in January 1942. Headquarters Battery, 109th Field Artillery was transferred to the battalion and formed the original Pioneer Company which ultimately was re-designated as Reconnaissance Company. Lt Bocock and Lt Starzinski were also transferred to the battalion in January 1942 and became Pioneer Co Commander and Co Executive Officer respectively. Other officers who joined the Battalion shortly after it was formed were 2/Lt Paul L. McPherran and 2/Lt Lawrence W. Merz, both Reserve Corps Officers, who were initially assigned as liaison Officers, Headquarters Battery. Also transferred were, 2/Lt Benjamin C. Manderville, 112th Infantry, initially assigned to C Battery, and 2/Lt Nathan N. Tyson, l08th Field Artillery, who replaced 2/Lt Meisenhelter as Battalion Personnel Officer when Lt Meisenhelter was transferred back to the 108th Field Artillery.
AP Hill Military Reservation, Virginia
At the end of Jul 1941, the AT Battalion moved to AP Hill Military Reservation near Fredericksburg, Virginia, for its first tactical field training which was a two week problem conducted by the entire 28th Infantry Division. Equipment at that time consisted of 3/4 ton weapons carriers as prime movers, with towed guns made out of miscellaneous pieces of pipe, wood, and other materials to represent an AT gun. No ammunition was expended, but the Battalion did raise a lot of dust on the back roads of Virginia, and soon became known as an up and coming organization that was going places, a prophecy, which was fulfilled as time marched on. After Labor Day, 1941, the Battalion returned to Indiantown Gap, and then in the latter part of September 1941, moved with the entire 28th Infantry Division to the Carolina Maneuver Area, establishing a base camp near Wadesboro, North Carolina.
Early in November 1941, Maj Peterson left the Battalion, and Maj William M. Hernandez, 108th Field Artillery, assumed command. Carolina Maneuvers ended after two active months, and the Battalion was on its way back to the Gap when word was received on Sunday December 7 1941 near South Boston, Virginia, that the Japs had attacked Pearl Harbor and that War had been declared. After returning to Indiantown Gap and enjoying a period of furloughs and leaves, orders were received to reorganize the provisional 28th Division AT Battalion as of December 15 1941, into a permanent organization officially designated as the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The reorganization involved absorbing D and F Batteries into A, B, and C Batteries, and re-designating all Batteries as Companies, effective January 3 1942.
Camp Livingston, Louisiana
Shortly after the first of the year 1942, the entire 28th Infantry Division moved by motor convoy from Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, to Camp Livingston, near Alexandria, Louisiana, which at that time was regarded as one of the longest motor convoy movements undertaken by the Army. In March 1942, the first group of new men totaling approximately 240 arrived direct from induction stations and were welcomed to the Battalion by the 300 old men. A basic training program was established, and the work of whipping the Battalion in to shape for combat began in earnest. Twenty-five mile hikes in the boiling Louisiana sun were merely a part of this training.
Camp Hood & Camp Bowie, Texas
In September 1942, the entire Battalion was moved by rail to the newly formed Tank Destroyer Center at Camp Hood, Texas, to undergo advanced unit training in Tank Destroyer tactics. After progressing through the infiltration course, street and village fighting to platoon and company tactics, a Battalion field problem was finally held and successfully passed. It was here in November 1942, after fifteen months of diligent training with dummy guns, that the Battalion gun crews had their first opportunity to fire live ammunition, using borrowed 75-MM guns on half tracks, the original TD Vehicle and weapon. It was here also that the Battalion received its last large group of inductees, over 300 in all, for basic training and assignment in the Battalion. Early in December 1942, the Battalion moved to Camp Bowie, Texas, for additional tactical training and for completion of the First Army Ground Force test. It was successfully passed after the most complicated dead reckoning motor march through Texas sage brush ever experienced by the Battalion. On January 3 1943, the Battalion furnished a complete officer and enlisted cadre of about 85 men who later formed the 648th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida
On January 3 1943, the Battalion en-trained at Camp Bowie, Texas, and after one of its most enjoyable train trips, arrived three days later at Camp Carrabelle, sixty miles southwest of Tallahassee, Florida, later designated as Camp Gordon Johnston. Here the Battalion returned once again to the control of the 28th Infantry Division for intensive Amphibious Training in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The Amphibious training was successfully completed by the end of March 1943, and after a period of leaves and furloughs, during which time the Battalion received its first combat vehicles, 36 M-10 Tank Destroyers. The entire Battalion moved to Camp Rucker, Alabama, in May 1943. Just prior to moving, however, the Battalion furnished a small cadre of eight men to the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion an volunteers, who immediately left for over seas duty, the first members of the Battalion to enter combat. At Camp Rucker an intensive period of M-10 driver training was initiated for all officers and enlisted men, and preparations commenced for the impending Tennessee Maneuver period which commenced July 4 1943.
Tennessee Maneuvers lasted until August 28 1943, and furnished an excellent opportunity for the men to learn how to use the M-10’s over various types of terrain and simulated combat conditions. After the first few problems, the Battalion Billeting party and the Battalion Commanders party also learned how to avoid being captured, a well learned lesson. After completing the Tennessee Maneuvers, the Battalion returned to Camp Rucker for a period of artillery range practice, where both direct and indirect firing methods were taught and executed on the firing range. Early in October 1943, the Battalion moved to Camp Pickett, Virginia, and then left for Camp Bradford, near Norfolk, Virginia, for a week of Amphibious training which was principally devoted to the technique of loading LST’s (Landing Ship Tank).
After Bradford, the Battalion returned to Camp Pickett and then within a weeks time left for the West Virginia Maneuver Area, arriving at a bivouac on top of Mount Canaan near Davis, West Virginia early in November 1943. The purpose of this assignment was threefold, first, to have experience in mountain driving, second, to become toughened to winter conditions, and third, to take another Army Ground Force test. In due time all three purposes were successfully fulfilled as the Battalion lived on a mountain and was completely surrounded on all sides by the Blue Ridge mountain range. Then almost immediately after the Battalion’s arrival, it snowed and continued to snow most of the remainder of the time there, and finally after spending days building a corduroy road over swamps, the Battalion managed to move it’s M-10’s to the firing range and successfully passed its Army Ground Force firing test. In spite of these various and sundry difficulties, however, the hospitality of the people of Thomas and Davis West Virginia was such that the men of the Battalion will long carry a warm feeling in their hearts for them.
Camp Dix, New Jersey
The Battalion left West Virginia early in December 1943, and proceeded to Camp Dix, New Jersey, the last Camp in the United States before arrival at a POE staging area. All heavy vehicle equipment was turned in, and new clothing issued, then after final leaves and furloughs over Christmas and New Years, the Battalion moved to Camp Shanks, New York, on January 17 1944, awaiting shipment overseas on the HMS Aquitania which left New York on January 29 1944.
Packington Park, England
On arrival at Greenock, Scotland on February 6 1944, the Battalion moved by rail to Packington, England located midway between Birmingham and Coventry. New M-10’s and other necessary equipment were received and all men and officers were kept busy on all phases of military training, particularly field artillery indirect fire, as the secondary role of a Tank Destroyer Battalion in combat.
Sub-Area X, Dorchester, England
At the end of March 1944, the Battalion moved to the vicinity of Hirwaun, Wales, where it enjoyed two weeks of artillery firing on the Brecon Range. The Battalion returned to Packington Park early in April, and on April 11 1944, moved to Dorchester, England, on special assignment, to handle the Marshalling Camps for the invasion troops. The Battalion was assigned to Sub-Area X, Marshalling Area D, and from April 15 1944 to July 4 1944 operated Camps D-4 (Camehouse) D-7 M (Marabout) and D-7 P (Poundbury). It was in these camps that the troops of the 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division lived until the time of their D-Day. On July 5, the Battalion was relieved of its Marshalling Areas assignment and moved to Camp D-2, Piddlehinton, near Bournemouth, England. There, last minute preparations were completed and after celebrating the Battalion’s Third Anniversary at a banquet held in Bournemouth on July 10, the 628-TDB moved to Camp D-3, Puddletown on July 26, loaded on Navy LST’s and embarked from England on July 28 1944. After three years of training, the Battalion was finally on its way to combat.
Baptism of Fire
Having landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on July 30 1944, the Battalion was peacefully bivouacked in an apple orchard near Le Valdécie, France until 1730, August 2, when word was received that the Battalion was assigned to the 5th Armored Division, XV Corps, Third Army and would prepare to move at once. At this time the 628-TDB was assigned the code name Victory which was used throughout the period of combat. It was for this moment that the unit had trained since July 10 1941, and once tactically committed on August 2, there were very few days when some members of the 628 were not on a combat status in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Germany, until the unconditional surrender on May 8 1945.
Initially the entire Battalion was kept intact, however, as orders were received to commit one company after another, it became normal operating procedure to attach one Recon Co Platoon to each of the Tank Destroyer Gun Companies, which in turn were attached to each of the three Combat Commands, Able Co to CCA, Baker Co to CCB, Charlie Co to CCR. Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters Co, Medical Detachment and Recon Co Headquarters, with Pioneer Platoon being attached to Headquarters 5th Armored Division Artillery. The Battalion Personnel Section was attached to Administrative Center in Division Rear Echelon. The initial mission of the 5-AD, given after the Battalion arrived in the division rendez-vous area at 2145, Aug 2, in the vicinity of Périers, was the taking of Fougères, with the main objective Laval. Battalion route of march went through Noirpalu (Le Tanu) via St Martin des Champs to St James. On Aug 4, Lt John J. Devine Jr, Platoon leader Able Co, went on a recon mission in vicinity of La Pélerine, and made the first contact by a member of the 628-TDB with an enemy force. Lt Devine subsequently died of wounds received in the vicinity of Argentan, on Aug 12.
The battalion left bivouac near St James, at 0930, August 6 and proceeded through Fougères, Vitré, Cuillé, Saint Poix, Méral, Crossé le Vivien to Houssay. Near Méral the column was fired on with small arms by enemy snipers and three German prisoners were captured by the Recon Co, in the vicinity of Crossé le Vivien. The following day the march was through Poillé sur Végre, where an enemy machine gun nest was encountered and subsequently knocked out by direct fire from two M-10’s from Able Co. From Poillé, the column proceeded through Chantenay-Villedieu, Maigné, Louplande, Spay to Arnage in vicinity of Le Mans. At Arnage sniper fire and enemy 88-MM Artillery fire was directed against the column, and Maigné was the first of many towns to be seen completely on fire. Thus, at this early stage in its progress across Europe, did the battalion receive its baptism of fire in combat, a baptism which continued in an ever increasing crescendo until the banks of the Elbe River in Germany were reached.
On August 10, still assigned to the XV Corps, 3-A, 5-AD, the 628-TDB moved out of the bivouac area in the vicinity of Le Mans, to participate in the attempt to close the Falaise – Argentan Gap. Route of the column passed through Briosne-lès-Sables, Le Mêle-sur-Sarthe, arriving in the vicinity of Sées, at 2145, August 12. During the march on August 11, 2nd Platoon, Able Co was acting as rear guard to the CCA’s column. Sometime during the night an unidentified column approached the route of march of the CCA’s column from the west. S/Sgt Koczan, Able Co challenged the leading vehicle and when it failed to stop, Koczan fired his .45 caliber pistol and killed the driver. He then destroyed the next two vehicles with hand grenades and brought .50 caliber and .30 caliber machine gun fire to the remaining five vehicles, while the M-10’s opened fire on the rear of the column with 3 inch HE to prevent a withdrawal. In all, 8 enemy vehicles and 240 enemy troops were destroyed. For this action, S/Sgt Koczan was awarded the first Silver Star Medal presented to a member of the battalion and subsequently was decorated with the Croix de Guerre by the French Government, the only award from a foreign government received by any member of the 628-TDB.
First reports of enemy tanks in the area were received on August 10, in the vicinity of Bonnetable, although no contact was made on this date. On August 11, however, S/Sgt Flynn, Platoon Sergeant, 1st Platoon, Charlie Co, acting as gunner, engaged a Mark IV tank at 500 yard range in the battalion’s first direct fire duel in the vicinity of Le Mesle, and successfully destroyed the first of a total of 56 enemy tanks credited the battalion. Other successful tank duels followed in quick succession. At 0630, August 12, Cpl Koetje, TD gunner, 2nd Platoon, Able Co, destroyed a Mark IV tank at 150 yard range in the vicinity of Ballon. At 1100, 4 miles northeast of Ballon, Cpl Kee, 1st Platoon, Able Co, the battalion’s only TD gunner from Chinatown, New York City, one of the best trained gunners in the organization, engaged two Mark IV tanks at the same time and at about a 1200 yard range. Kee destroyed both enemy tanks with direct hits.
On August 14, while on recon, the Battalion Commander’s armored car was fired on by heavy artillery near Bourg St Leonard, east of Argentan, at 1345. At 1500, in the vicinity of La Corbette, this vehicle struck a German Teller mine at a curve in the road injuring T/5 Flora, driver, and Capt England, the Battalion Surgeon. The Battalion Commander escaped injury. These were the first casualties sustained from enemy mines experienced by the Battalion. 1st Platoon, B Co, attached to CCB knocked out one Mark VI Tiger tank at 300 yards at 1430, August 15, in the vicinity of Vitré.
The Battle of the Seine River
At 1730, August 15, still attached to 3-A, XV Corps, 5-AD, the Battalion left the bivouac area in the vicinity of Sées, and moved east en route to Dreux. After arriving in the vicinity of city, all of the units then swung north to prevent the enemy from crossing the Eure River and the Seine River. The Battalion left the bivouac area near Faymonville (France), at 1230 on August 18 and proceeded through Germainville, to Le Hay and Les Bossus. On August 17, 3rd Platoon, Baker Co, working with the 47-AIB moved north and crossed the Eure River near Bourg L’Abbé and knocked out two Mark IV and one 88-MM AT gun at ranges from 1600 to 1800 yards near Muzy, then returned south of the river. From Les Bossus, the CP was moved north to Cravent, arriving there at 1650, August 19. The 628-TD CO, Lt Col William M. Hernandez, went out to contact Able Co on August 20, and while directing indirect fire on enemy tanks was killed at 1630 near Douains. He was replaced by Maj William J. Gallagher at 1700. In the same action in which Col Hernandez was killed, Cpls O’Brien and Tartaglia, 3rd Platoon, Able Co, each destroyed a Mark V Panther tank at 1700 yard range just west of Douains, while the platoon had one M-10 knocked out. This was the first of 18 TD vehicles which the battalion totally lost as a result of enemy action. Gun Companies attached to the combat commands continued to advance generally north, destroying enemy vehicles and personnel fleeing from the Falaise – Argentan Gap trapped between the Eure and the Seine Rivers.
On August 21, the 3rd Plat, Able Co, reported knocking out at 1800 yard range one Mark V Panther and one Mark IV tank, one truck and one AT gun four miles north of Douains. On the 23, the battalion CP moved north from Cravent to Gallion. It then moved southeast arriving at a new bivouac area at Guerville, at 0200, August 25. Thus the Battle of the Seine River was completed, and for five days the battalion saw no action except for an indirect artillery fire mission which Baker Co drew. This breathing spell was used well by the men. They got some much needed rest and also made the equipment ready for the next mission.
Number built 8800. The Panzer IV was the workhorse of the German tank force during World War II. It saw combat in all theaters, and was the only German tank to remain in production for the entire war. The Panzer IV was originally intended to be a support tank. It was thus armed with a 75-MM howitzer intended primarily to fire high-explosive shells in support of other tanks or infantry. By Mid 1942, it was rearmed with a longer 75-MM dual-purpose gun that could defeat most Soviet tanks. In the second half of the war, about half of all German tanks were Panzer IVs.
Drive to the Belgium Border
On August 27, the 5-AD with the 628-TDB attached, was relieved of assignment to the 3-A and the XV Corps to assigned to the 1-A and V Corps. On August 30, the 5-AD was given the mission of marching direct to the Belgian border with the least possible delay. The 628 left the bivouac near Guerville – Mantes-la-Jolie at 0730 on August 30, with CCB. It passed through the outskirts of Paris and continued on through Senlis, the Compiègne Forest, Noyon, Guiscard, Valenciennes arriving at Vieux-Condé – Bernissart on the Belgian border at 2330 on September 2. On arrival at the Belgian border, orders were changed and the division was instructed to clear the area for the pending arrival of British troops. The division was given the new mission to move south and seize Sedan (France) and then east to enter into Luxembourg. The battalion left the area along the Belgian border at 1300 on Sept 4, and moved south to La Romagne (France), arriving there at about 2200. The entire Tank Destroyer Battalion was detached from CCB and attached to CCR on Sept 5 and left the bivouac area at La Romagne at 1200. The same day, the 628-TDB arrived at the new bivouac area near Charleville-Mézières at 1430 the same day. On Sept 6, Able Co was attached to 10-TB, Baker Co to the 47-AIB and Charlie Co to CCR trains while Battalion HQs, Recon Co, Headquarters and Medical Detachment were attached to CCR Headquarters. The group left the bivouac at 0845 and moved through Charleville-Mézières, Donchery and arrived in a new bivouac area near Sedan at 1630 the same day. The 628-TDB proceeded then to a new area near Florenville (Belgium), Sept 8, with the mission of liberating Luxembourg.
Liberation of Luxembourg
The 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion left Florenville, Belgium, at 0800, Sept 9, arriving at new assembly position southeast of Useldange, Luxembourg, at 2100 same day. The column was fired upon by enemy AT guns and machine guns in the vicinity of Metzert (Belgium), but no casualties were sustained. The battalion left Useldange (Luxembourg), at 0835 on Sept 10, had a temporary halt northeast of Mersch (Luxembourg) at about 1000 when the leading elements ran into enemy resistance. Advance continued at 1800 to the new area at Schrondweiler (Luxembourg) arriving there at 2045. We left Schrondweiler at 1915, Sept 11 for a new area northwest of Ermsdorf (Luxembourg), at the Brucherhof Farm, arriving at 2100 the same day. Plan for the breaching of the Siegfried Line at Wallendorf (Germany) along the Luxembourg border were started.
First Penetration of the Siegfried Line
On Sept 13, CCR announced the mission of breaching the Siegfried Line installations at Wallendorf, Germany, and advancing east in an effort to capture Bitburg. CCB was to assist and cover the advance of CCR with artillery support. Able Co, was attached to CCB for this purpose, the rest of the battalion was attached to CCR. Prior to the launching of the attack artillery fired both direct and indirect missions on targets in Germany. On Sept 12, the 3rd Platoon, Recon Co, established in Luxembourg, an Observation Post overlooking the Siegfried Line installations 1/4 mile west of Ameldingen an der Our, Germany. Enemy patrol crossed the Our River and passed within 100 yard of th OP however the OP did not open fire as it would have revealed th position. On Sept 13, the 2nd Plat, Baker Co, in position on a hill near Bigelbach (Luxembourg) used direct fire methods at 2000 yard range on German pill boxes and other enemy targets in the vicinity of Wallendorf and Biesdorf. On the same day, the 2nd Plat, Charlie Co moved across the Moselle River and fired on enemy pill box northeast of Hoesdorf (Germany). Direct fire methods were used and six pill boxes were knocked out after which the platoon returned to the bivouac area.
On Sept 13, Baker Co with the Recon Platoon attached, moved with the 47-AIB into firing positions on a high ground east and north east of Reisdorf (Luxembourg), on fire support to the 47-AIB attack on the German fortification of the Siegfried Line northeast of Wallendorf. Charlie Co with the Recon Platoon, still attached to the 10-TB moved to an assembly area 5 miles east of Gilsdorf (Luxembourg) at 1315. 1st Plat, Charlie Co then moved to Wallendorf (Germany) crossing the Our River and set up road blocks to protect the main body of the CCR. The 2nd Plat, Charlie Co assisted 1/112-IR (28-ID) also attached to CCR, in the seizing of Reisdorf (Luxembourg), and the establishing of road block there. The 3rd Platoon, Charlie Co moved to a position one mile north of Wallendorf to guard the right flank of CCR. The Pioneer Platoon, Recon Co, was attached to Charlie Co, 22-AEB (Engineer) for a bridge building mission. Charlie Co was in Germany and to Maj Burgess, (then Capt), go the honors of being the first man in the battalion to set foot on German soil. The remainder of the 628-TDB, except Able Co, working with CCB crossed into Germany on Sept 15 and at 1700 the 628-TDB’s CP was established on Hill 408 one mile east of Frelingen (Germany), approximately 6 miles into Germany, and which later proved about the deep of the penetration CCR was able to make on this mission.
At about 1030, on Sept 16, the CCR area in which Battalion Hq, Recon Co Hq, and the Medical Detachment were also located, came under enemy artillery fire so these units withdrew to a new bivouac area west of Frelingen. Able Co with CCB moved into Germany this day, and went into direct and indirect artillery positions protecting CCR lines of communication and flanks. 1st and 3rd Plats, Baker Co in position southeast of Hill 408, 2nd Plat, Baker Co in position supporting 1/112-IR (28-ID) on Hill 298 near Stockem (Germany). 1st and 2nd Plats, Charlie Co in AT defense of the 10-TB positions southeast of Stockem (Wettlingen – Peffingen) and northeast of Halsdorf (Bettingen), respectively, while 3rd Plat, Charlie Co had AT defense of CCR trains near Hommerdingen (Germany). On Sept 17, enemy small arms, mortar and artillery fire increased in intensity in all areas occupied by American troops. 2nd Plat, Baker Co repulsed three enemy attacks against their position east of Wettlingen, inflicting an estimated 150 casualties. 1-112/28-ID and 2nd Plat also suffered heavy casualties from enemy mortar and artillery fire, all personnel and vehicles were evacuated to safety. Lt Rennebaum, Platoon Leader, was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross as a result of this action, the highest award received by any member of this Battalion during its entire period of combat.
For their outstanding work in this sector of action, T/4 Claycomb, Medical Detachment, was awarded the first Silver Star in the Medical Detachment and T/5 Coschignano the first Bronze Star Medal. The work of the men in the Medical Detachment throughout the entire period of combat was exemplified by courage, daring and skill. The names of Barnes, Baker, Burden, Beam, Dewey, Davidson, Edlin, Estanish, Gura, Fittery, Kauffman, McCall, McCann, Macke, Rhodes and Youngs will long be remembered by the men of the firing companies. The fact that in this group of men a total of five Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, and nine Purple Heart Medals were awarded is ample demonstration of the superior record achieved by the Battalion Medical Detachment.
Sept 19, was the high point in the Battalion’s combat history in so far as knocking out enemy tanks during any single twenty-four hour period is concerned. Starting at 0930 of this eventful day, CCR’s CP area as well as the Battalion CP area came under intense artillery fire from the northeast and south, forcing the CP installations to be moved from one protective terrain feature to another until it was finally decided to withdraw all units back into Luxembourg, a movement which was successfully completed by 0500 on Sept 20. Prior to the withdrawal however, both Baker Co and Charlie Co had an artilleryman’s field day. 1st Plat, Baker Co with Lt Jones commanding, while in position north of Frelingen, protecting the left flank of CCR knocked out six Mark VI (Tiger) tanks attempting to approach their position from the vicinity of Huttingen bei Lahr (Germany) by direct fire at ranges from 1500 to 3600 yards. Cpl Rice, Tank Destroyer gunner, knocked out three enemy tanks in quick succession at 1800 yards, Cpl Milliman also destroyed one at 1800 yards while Cpl Tomaszewski and Cpl Kiwior knocked out tanks at 3600 and 3200 yards respectively. Two unidentified enemy tanks were also knocked out by the 2nd Plat. In addition, this platoon assisted the tanks attached to the 47-AIB in knocking out an additional five enemy tanks of undetermined designation while Cpl Giacomino knocked out two other enemy tanks but was unable to identify the tanks due to enemy fire.
The 3rd Plat, Charlie Co, with Lt Feldman commanding, established an Observation Post and firing positions on the reverse slope of a hill 1500 yards north of Hommerdingen. Considerable enemy movement was observed in the vicinity of Huttingen bei Lahr and brought under fire at ranges from 1000 to 2000 yards which resulted in one enemy Mark V Panther tank definitely knocked out and observed hits scored on six Mark VI Tiger and one other Mark V Panther, which the enemy either recovered or else completed the destruction. Thus, in one twenty-four hour period, the 628-TDB received credit for six Mark VI Tiger, one Mark V Panther, and four unidentified tanks destroyed; six Mark VI Tiger, and one Mark V Panther probably destroyed, and assisted in the destruction of five unidentified tanks. Thus did the Battalion acquire itself on this historic initial penetration of th Siegfried Line into Germany. The fact that a withdrawal became necessary after the German Army moved a greatly superior force from other fronts to offset this threat, only further proved the success of the operation.
The Battle of the Huertgen Forest
After withdrawing from Germany back into Luxembourg on Sept 19, the battalion was committed to various road block and indirect artillery mission during the months of October and November. The entire battalion moved from Luxembourg to the vicinity of Faymonville (Belgium) on Oct 5. Able Co was attached to CCR (5-AD) on Oct 11, moved to an area north of Elsenborn (Belgium) for AT defense and indirect fire artillery missions and on Oct 13, moved to an indirect fire position near Kalterherberg (Germany). Baker Co was attached to CCA (5-AD) on Oct 13 and moved to the vicinity of Heerlen (Holland). Charlie Co was attached to CCB (5-AD) on Oct 15, and moved to the vicinity of Oberforstbach (Germany). CCA and Baker Co were in reserve with the XIX Corps while CCB and Charlie Co were in reserve with the VII Corps in the attack on Aachen (Germany), but were not committed prior to the fall of that city. Thus it was that during this period the battalion had elements in Belgium, Holland, and Germany at the same time. On Oct 23, the battalion moved to the vicinity of Kalterherberg (Germany) where for the first time since entering combat civilian homes were utilized for billets, a policy which was continued from that date until the end of hostilities. On Nov 1, the new M-36 Tank Destroyers equipped with the 90-MM guns arrived to replace the M-10’s with the 76-MM guns in the three firing companies. By Nov 18, all companies were located in the vicinity of Roetgen (Germany), the gun companies having either road block or indirect artillery missions. On Nov 25, Charlie Co moved with CCR to vicinity of Huertgen (Germany) with mission of providing AT defense for CCR attached to 8-ID, V Corps, 1-A, in the impending battle of Huertgen Forest. On Nov 29, the 5-AD with 628-TDB attached, less CCR and Charlie Co respectively, were relieved of attachment to V Corps and attached to VII Corps, 1-A.
On Dec 3, CCA with Able Co attached was further attached to 4-ID in their attack on Strauch – Rurberg (Germany), while Baker Co was attached to CCB on indirect fire missions. The Battle of the Huertgen Forest; in Germany was by far the most intense period of combat experienced by any unit in this battalion and full credit can be paid to CCR and Charlie Co for their outstanding combat record in this engagement. This was the area that the enemy had been been able to strongly fortify and were determined to protect, as it controlled the approach to the vitally important network of dams which fed into the Roer River area. To the north British and American unit were approaching the west bank of the Roer but could not cross until the network of dam in the hill above their position were held by our forces. It was known that the German plan of defense was based on their ability to hold these dams to the last possible minute, and then release this vast supply of water to flood the entire Roer River valley. It was for this reason that the American army had to have those dam and it took the 28-ID, 8-ID and 78-ID supported by CCR and Charlie Co weeks of stubborn fighting through mine field and innumerable counter-attack. The way was cleared through Huertgen, Kleinhau, Grosshau, Brandenburg, Bergstein, Strauch and Gey so that our fore were in position where they could successfully launch an attack to capture the dams.
The enemy made extensive use of his air element during this period strafing and bombing both forward and rear elements of the battalion. On Dec 3, near Roetgen, Baker Co was attacked and strafed by ME-109s while in indirect fire position and received credit for the first of four enemy plan destroyed by the 628-TDB. On the same day one mile east of Roetgen, Charlie Co bivouac area was strafed by enemy plane and the second plane to the credit of the 628-TDB was destroyed. Enemy artillery employment in the Huertgen – Bergstein area was the heaviest encountered. The artillery fire was much as to confine tank crews to their tank for hours at a time and air burst and shrapnel caused many casualties to the men in the open M-36 turrets. One Charlie Co M-36 hit a min in the vicinity of Bergstein on Dec 6 and the crew climbed into another M-36 for protection. Shortly afterwards however this other M-36 with both crews aboard received a direct hit in the open turret with a white phosphorous hell. As the result of this experience, plan were immediately started to build an armored turret top for all TD vehicles. This modification for all M-36 Tank Destroyer vehicle was finally completed in January 1945 and proved invaluable in combat on a number of subsequent occasion.
At one time Charlie Co had only one M-36 out of twelve operational either due to being destroyed, knocked out by mines, or lacking crews. However largely because of the untiring and aggressive effort of the men in the company and the effort of the Company and Battalion Motor Maintenance crew, recovery and repair were completed so that seven M-36s were operational the next day. While this was a difficult and hazardous period for our men they in turn had been making the enemy pay heavily at all times. Innumerable casualties were inflicted on enemy troop as counter-attack after counter-attack was repulsed by our forces. Elements of the 272.Volksgrendaier-Division and 246.Volksgrenadier-Division, other elements of three Paratrooper Division, some armor of the 116.Panzer-Division and even other unit of the 5.Panzer-Army were employed but once if the American unit took an objective they held it.
On Dec 6 in Bergstein, Charlie Co destroyed five enemy tank when Sgt Wood knocked out one Mark VI Tiger and one Mark V Panther at a 1000 yard range, Sgt Balough knocked out on Mark V Panther and one Mark IV at a 1200 yard range and Sgt Leo, destroyed on Mark IV at a 75 yard range. On Dec 8, CCR and Charlie Co were relieved and pulled back to the vicinity of Rabotrath – Kettenis (Belgium), for a much needed rest. The Battle of Huertgen Forest was not over, but the foothold on the commanding terrain controlling the approach to the Roer River dam was secured with the capture of the towns of Kleinhau, Brandenburg, Bergstein, Strauch and Gey. Credit for the capture of these town can be claimed by CCR and CCA (5-AD) with Charlie Co and Able Co of the 628-TDB.
The Battle of the Bulge
Early in December 1944, intelligence reports showed that there was a considerable increase in enemy troop movement and that the German 5.Panzer-Army and 6.SS-Panzer-Army were in reserve between the Roer and the Rhine Rivers. Further, by looking at the friendly situation map, it could be seen that the American troop between Roetgen and Kalterherberg were spread fairly thin. The entire sector from St Vith, south to Wiltz and Diekirch (Luxembourg) had been quiet since September, and it was generally felt by those who were located at these points that the area was fairly safe. It was thought the enemy could not afford to make the sacrifice in troops and material which a large counter-attack would entail. The German Army could not afford such an expenditure as was later proven by the ease with which the Allied armies in the west crossed the Roer River, the Rhine River, the Weser River and on to the banks of the Elbe River in March and April 1945. Afford it or not, however, on December 16 1944, the German Army did launch an offensive on a grand scale which was not stopped until their spearhead elements had nearly cut Belgium in two from the German to the French border and until most of the US 1-A and 3-A together with elements of the British Second Army had been shifted to meet this threat.
Around December 8, all companies in the Battalion with exception of Baker Co and Charlie Co moved north to the Hahn – Zweifall area located approximately six miles south of Aachen. Preparation were being made for the crossing of the Roer River as soon as the Roer River dam could be secured. On Dec 17, first news of the German counter-offensive in Belgium was received, enemy air activity increased and we learned that harassing enemy paratroopers had landed in the area between Hahn (Germany) and Eupen (Belgium) which was the main supply road. Anti-paratrooper patrols were organized by the Battalion. On Dec 19, the Battalion was relieved of its attachment to the VII Corps and the 5-AD and was attached to the XIX Corps and the 78-ID. The 628-TDB’s CP returned to Roetgen, to be in closer touch with HQ 78-ID. On Dec 23, however, all companies reverted to Battalion control, the Battalion itself being relieved from attachment to the XIX Corps and the 78-ID and attached now to the VII Corps and 3-AD. The 628-TDB alerted for immediate movement was instructed to take over an area in the vicinity of Barvaux sur Ourthe (Belgium). The Battle of the Bulge was on.
Upon the arrival of all units in the new area around 1400 on December 21, Able Co took up a defensive position in Soy (Belgium). Baker Co was attached to the 83rd Recon Bn (3-AD) took up defensive positions in the vicinity of Grandmenil (Belgium). Charlie Co, Recon Co and the Battalion forward CP were established in Erezée (Belgium), while HQs Company and the Battalion rear echelon elements moved to Bomal sur Ourthe (Belgium). No one knew just how near the enemy has approached but it did not take long to find this out. Able Co’s position in Soy came under artillery fire shortly after their arrival and the enemy launched a small infantry counter-attack which approached to within 200 yards on the company’s first defenses before withdrawing. At 0130, December 25, the 2nd Plat of Baker Co, had a road block established in Grandmenil when an armored column was heard approaching the concealed position. Sgt Moser, TD Gun Commander, permitted the leading vehicle coming up to 25 yards of his position before opening fire and then in quick succession knocked out the first two tanks at almost point blank range, both of them being later identified as two Mark V Panther. This action caused the other enemy vehicles in this column to withdraw and no further attempt was made by the enemy to utilize this Grandmenil – Soy – Erezée road network which they needed to properly protect their northern flank. Later, during the same day, members of Baker Co, found two other Mark V Panther abandoned by their crews because the tanks were out of gas. Both Panther were prepared for destruction and detonated a little while later, adding two more Mark V Panther to the destroyed German vehicles by the 628-TDB. Thus did the Battalion celebrate Christmas Day 1944.
The Battalion remained on road blocks and protective AT missions in this area until the 3-AD was relieved on December 31 1944, all companies were in reserve with the 3-AD. Battalion Hq was in Seny; Battalion Hqs and Recon Co was in Bomal; Able Co in Les Avins while Baker Co and Charlie Co were in Ahnée. On the first day of 1945, the 628-TDB was relieved from attachment to the VII Corps, 3-AD and attached to the XVIII Corps (Airborne), and the 82nd Airborne Division. These guys from the All American Division were truly fighters. A single squad of the Airborne soldiers would go against an entire German company while an single Company would do the same against a entire German battalion. Beside this, it is to know that assigning an objective to any unit of the 82nd Airborne Division, this meant : objective had to be taken and held.
The mission of the 82nd Airborne Division during the time the 628-TDB was attached to it, was to clean up all enemy resistance in the Division area west of the Salm River. The mission was successfully completed in eleven days, but those eleven days were filled with excitement and pathos. During this period, Able Co had two M-36 TDs destroyed by AT fire, and one M-36 TD and one M-8 Armored Car knocked out by enemy mines, while Charlie Co had one M-36 knocked out by enemy mines. The vehicles hit by AT fire burned and were total losses, however, those vehicles damaged hy mines were recovered and repaired. In addition to the vehicle losses, fourteen enlisted men in the battalion were killed in this action, nine from Baker Co, and five from Able Co. Eighteen were wounded. That the enemy paid dearly for these losses is without question. On Jan 4 1945, the 1st Sec, 2nd Plat, Baker Co destroyed one Mark V Panther in the vicinity of Arbrefontaine (Belgium), and on the same day east of Odrimont (Belgium), Sgt Moser and Sgt Marrapese, both of Baker Co, teamed up to knock out a Mark IV at 600 yard range. On Jan 7, southeast of Goronne (Belgium), Cpl Kiwior, Baker Co, knocked out another Mark VI Tiger at 350 yard range. Also on the same day, southeast of Goronne, Cpl Olsaheck and Sgt Koczan, Able Co teamed up to knock out another Royal Tiger Mark VI at 700 yards, the only two Royal Tigers to the credit of the 628-TDB. On Jan 8, Cpl O’Brien and Cpl Salamone, Able Co, teamed up to knock out two Mark IV tanks at 800 yards to make a total of six enemy tanks on this mission. In addition to these tanks, the battalion also received credit for destroying one 88-MM towed gun, two armored vehicles, one half-track, one machine gun nest, one Panzerschreck (Bazooka) and one OP in a stone house. The 628 inflicted approximately 75 casualties of which 54 were known dead, and captured 41 prisoners of war. Upon the conclusion of the operation, Baker Co received a citation from the Commanding General of the 82-Abn for the aggressive spirit displayed by the members of that company during this period.
On Jan 11, the battalion was relieved of the attachment with the 82nd Airborne Division. and attached to the 75th Infantry Division. However, no actual contact with the enemy was made after this date while the battalion was with the 75-ID. On Jan 16, the battalion was relieved of attachment to the 75-ID and moved to the vicinity of Francorchamps (Belgium) in the status of Corps Reserve. On Jan 27, the battalion was relieved of the attachment to the XVIII Corps (Airborne), 1-A, and attached once again to what all members of the battalion have come to regard as the parent unit the 3-AD which had recently been transferred from 1-A to 9-A control. The battalion, less Able Co moved to Herbesthal (Belgium) for a rest period and needed maintenance. Able Co was attached to CCA-5-AD, and moved to an assembly area in the vicinity Rott (Belgium), with the mission of assisting CCA in their attack on Eicherscheid (Germany). The mission was successfully completed with the loss of only one man and Able Co returned to Battalion control at Herbesthal, on February 1. The battalion moved then to Voerendaal (Holland) on Feb 3, and there enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Holland until the plans for the crossing of the Roer River, with the XIII Corps, 9-A, could be completed on Feb 25.
Germany – The Roer River to the Rhine River
Since early October 1944, the Roer River and the defensive positions of the German army to its east had been a formidable barrier. By the middle of February 1945, the US 1-A and 3-A had not only regained all the ground occupied by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, but had succeeded in pushing deep into German territory and seizing the Roer River dams. The Germans withdrew the remnants of their tattered 5.Panzer-Army and 6.SS-Panzer-Army east of the Roer River, and around Feb 13, opened the gates of the dams and flooded the Roer River Valley in order to gain time to construct their defensive positions between the Roer and the Rhine Rivers. The build-up of Allied troops waiting for the Roer River crossing was now completed and so all that was necessary was to wait for the flood waters to subside. This took about seven days and on the February 23, the XVI Corps launched its attack to cross. Able Co under Division Artillery control was in indirect artillery position in the vicinity of Puffendorf (Germany) to support this attack. From February 5, Able Co fired three registrations, 21 interdiction concentrations and 108 harassing concentrations, totaling 2122 rounds of which 1600 rounds were fired in the initial artillery barrage which lasted ten hours prior to the jumping off of the infantry attack on Feb 23. This represents the greatest number of rounds fired by any company in the 628-TDB in any similar period of time.
Baker Co, attached to CCB was the first unit of the battalion to cross the Roer at Linnich (Germany) on Feb 25. The remainder of the 628-TDB followed the next day, Able Co attached to CCA, Charlie Co attached to CCR. Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters Co, Recon Co Headquarters, Pioneer Platoon and Medical Detachment moved with the Division Artillery Headquarter. The initial assembly area east of the Roer River was in the vicinity of Koffern – Hottorf (Germany). All elements of the 5-AD then “swung to the north capturing Hetzerath, Matzerath, Erkelenz, Mehlbuch, Sittardheide, Rheindalen Rheydt, by-passing Mönchengladhach and continuing through Viersen, Anrath, Tönisvort, Hüls, Neukirchen-Vluyn, where the Battalion CP was established on March 4. Able Co in the meantime had, with CCA-5-AD, proceeded in the attack against Krefeld, while C Co continued with CCR-5-AD, in the attack on Repelen and Orsoy, less than a mile from the west bank of the Rhine Rive. on March 7, with the exception of a pocket of resistance around Wessel, the operation from the Roer River to the west bank of the Rhine River was completed by March 10. No losses in either personnel or vehicles were suffered by the 628-TDB although on March 3, a friendly plane dropped a bomb in Able Co’s area killing two men and injured several others.
The enemy troops opposing our troops in early March, constituted an insufficient group lacking sufficient personnel or equipment to even delay our advance. The principal obstacles confronting the battalion’s movement consisted of drainage ditches, supplemented by numerous AT ditches and occasional mine fields. Enemy AT guns were, for the most part, 88-MM guns dug in with excellent fields of fire covering AT ditches, road-blocks, mine-fields, approaches, and highways. Enemy air elements were scarce but reconnaissance planes were heard throughout the area with occasional strafing, hut no damage was done to our units. In March, during a movie program in the battalion CP in the post office at Vluyn, a lone enemy plane dove on the CP and dropped what was estimated to be a 500 pound bomb, hut missed the building by 200 yards. Several men were cut however when the concussion of the bomb blew in all the windows of the building. The movie was continued after the black-out shades had been repaired. Enemy armor was limited and no enemy tanks were engaged by the Battalion.
On March 12, all the companies reverted to Battalion Control and moved in the vicinity of Osterath. The Battalion CP was set up at Schweinheim, with three gun companies in indirect firing positions to the east. From March 13 to March 29, under Division Artillery control, A Co fired three registrations of 20 rounds, two Time on Target’s totaling 36 rounds, and 19 harassing concentrations totaling 340 rounds. B Co, fired three registrations of 50 rounds, four Time on Target’s totaling 77 rounds and 246 harassing concentrations totaling 1507 rounds during this same period. C Co, fired one registration of five rounds, four Time of Target’s totaling 77 rounds and 247 harassing concentrations totaling 1328 rounds. All targets were located in the important industrial Ruhr district, east of the Rhine.
On March 30, A Co, B Co, and C Co, were attached respectively to CCA-5-AD, CCB-5-AD and CCR-5-AD, in the preparation of tactical commitment east of the Rhine River. On March 31, the entire 628-TDB crossed the river over the Engineer Pontoon Bridge at Wesel. The final phase of the War in Europe had started.