99-ID, 99th Reconnaissance Troop, December 1944

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On Nov 10, 1944, the 99th Reconnaissance Troop (99th Infantry Division) through intermittent rain and snow moved 40 miles to the south and east on slippery surfaced roads from St Jean Sart (Aubel – Belgium) to Elsenborn (Belgium). From there, the 3rd Plat moved to Kalterherberg, dug in on a hill, and created that now famous thing – The Hole -, two machine gun emplacements dug in and under enemy fire, here for the next month. To be exact, until Dec 11, as they held out there on a defensive line as reserves. In this month much was learned both by the men at Elsenborn and those at Kalterherberg. At Elsenborn every day at least two members of each platoon, making a 10 man total, accompanied the 395th Infantry Regiment patrols into the Siegfried Line. The experience was invaluable. On one occasion one of these patrols was to seize a Siegfried Line pillbox knocked out by a rocket round fired by their patrol. This gave promise of bigger things yet to come. The 2nd Plat, while digging in additional defensive positions at Kalterherberg for the reserve line of the 3rd Plat, received eight rounds of Jerry mortar fire coming in as also did the 3rd. It was then the Troop as a unit received its baptism of fire. It was on Nov 15. On the lighter side of things, although the drama of the movies was missing and the Reconnoiters were coming one by one to admit Gen Sherman’s dictum on war, with the added qualification frozen hell, Roberts and Birdsong got themselves into the movies during a patrol, on which a cameraman came along and kept them candid company, thus even the glamorous had become the same hell to live with and the disillusionment of a frozen life became complete.

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On Thanksgiving Day the 3rd Plat mortar crews were not to be daunted from the traditions of the Pilgrims. Turkey with cranberry sauce and candied sweet potatoes, peas, celery, pineapple pie and candy sat upon a white tablecloth with shining silverware, napkins, serving bowls, glistening china in their appropriate places, beneath them, around them, or on them. Also toothpicks ! All this within a stones throw of the hole ! It was a tribute to American ingenuity and faith in the future. Based on a couple of old military truisms : to the victor belong the spoils and an army moves on its belly, the supply problem had been relatively easily solved.

McCoy, Ancona, Perkins, Grant, O’Brien, Crawford, Gates, Greer and Marcincavage, did the honors. Little did they know that less than a month later they would have even more to be thankful for something more than just individually passing through fire or taking potshots on patrols something more than just being Americans, having earned the title, Combat Soldiers, Defenders of a Line. While at Elsenborn Lt Roser, fresh from the 16th Armored Division, had joined the troop as Communications Officer and it was thus at full strength that the Troop on Dec 11 negotiated the slippery, snow covered three miles to Kalterherberg, across the German border to Germany. Two days later, at 0830 the 99-Recon went into attachment to the 2-ID, displacing the 2/395-IR. Realistically now then, for them the Rhineland Campaign was on. Authorized by War Department General Orders # 80 Sect. VI October 5, 1944.

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It had begun September 15 and the 99th Infantry Division itself had been active in it since November. Here however, it was that the 99th Recon Troop finally came out of reserve into action. In the next three weeks the 99-Recon was to play an integral part in two battles : the attack on the Siegfried Line, Sonntagshugel December 13 – December 18, then the Defense of Elsenborn, December 19 1944 – February 4 1945, in fact, a very essential part in the latter, the Defense of Elsenborn. The 395th Infantry Regiment (99-ID) had just jumped off to the northeast against heavy artillery concentrations to seize its objective. Without, however, its 3rd Bn, which was holding the north flank as an anchored defense at Höfen. To the south the 393rd Infantry Regiment and the 394th Infantry Regiment, both also from the 99th Infantry Division, in that order were pushing north and east as well. More than three battalions of artillery were in support. They were driving for a combined thrust east with 2nd Infantry Division on their left. Elements of the Indian Head Troop went into reserve with the 2/395. This was no doubt made possible by the fact that at the north end of the anchor or Höfen hinge was the 38-Cav-Recon Sq in Monschau and at the south flank of it the 99-Recon was deployed over at least a 1500 yard front. Recon being in attachment to the 2nd Infantry Division, this directly released at least two companies of foot soldiers from the 2-ID into the 2/395.

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Situation : 12th Army Group, December 12 1944

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Situation : Northern Shoulder, Bulge, December 15 1944

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Situation : VII Corps, December 15 1944

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This was the situation along the front as of December 15 1944
The next two days brought increasing enemy resistance but the front continued moving northeast. Enemy patrols accompanied by dogs were encountered and heavy artillery began along the moving front. Back at Höfen and to the south all was quiet on the defensive line. The 99-Recon remained in contact with the 2-ID’s Recon to the south and the 395-IR to its north.

16-december-1944-02At 0525, December 16, began a new phase of the battle and another campaign : the Ardennes Campaign ending as already world famous by January 25, 1945. In the 99th Infantry Division area from Höfen to the Northeast of Hunningen, began intense enemy shelling and then enemy battalion spearheads of armor and infantry nosed out along the 30 kilometers front. Behind these fingers of steel and mud lay six divisions of Nazi strength and assorted paratroopers outfits. In a three day seesaw battle the 99-Recon saw and heard the Battle of the Bulge range around them. This offensive beat like a tidal wave against the rocks of Monschau, Höfen and Bütgenbach. Much of the spray now and then fell around the intrepid Recon. Many times doing vital liaison work Recon men broke right into the teeth of the storm. At the end of four days the Eupen, Jalhay, Sourbrodt, Elsenborn, Bütgenbach road net remained intact, its southern members had become bastions of defense. Recon had on Dec 16 (0630) received light 88-MM enemy fire for about an hour.

On Dec 17, the CP was strafed by hostile aircraft, presaging a later foray by ME-109’s against C/394-IR at 1145 that day. On its right flank Recon received mortar and light small arms fire during the day.

On Dec 18, the 99-Recon had gone into attachment to the 3-395-IR and had also lost contact with the 2-ID Recon on its right or Southern flank. It now more than ever like the vital axle of a wheel in the center of the fury of a great storm. At 1915 (Dec 18) Recon relayed the vital news that the Höfen area of Dec 18 was about to be under an attack by enemy armor. The Germans method had been to seek to achieve pincers, striking first in the Honsfeld – Mürringen – Butgenbach sector then flashing out at Höfen and Monschau. The most favorable road net lay to the south and Bütgenbach. Here it was that they had made the most progress. Höfen had become an impenetrable bastion.

Back to December 16
At dawn, elements of Oberstleutnant Friedrich August Freiherr Von der Heydte’s paratroopers (Operation Stösser) had been dropped in the Lanzerath – Butgenbach – Sourbrodt – Baraque Michel – Belle-Croix – Eupen area (this was amidst the other enemy air activities of that day : the strafing of the CP of the 99-Recon Troop and the bombing and strafing of C-1/394 by ME-109’s all of which occurred between two and four hours later). The overall plan for the Battle of the Bulge would see the deployment of two German Airborne divisions, the 3. Fallschirmjäger Division and 5. Fallschirmjäger Division. The high command saw potential for a small scale airborne drop behind allied lines to capture a strategic road junction, 11 kilometer north of Malmedy which would be vital for US troop movements to reinforce the front. A battalion or so of Fallschirmjäger dug in around the junction would significantly affect the operation, and if they failed in this task or were delayed, the secondary objective would be the bridges over the Amblève River. Karl Student, commander of Army Group H chose Oberstleutnant von der Heydte to lead the operation, a veteran of Crete, Africa, Russia, Normandy and Holland. For this operation, Von der Heydte formed a Kampfgruppe of about a battalion size consisting of 4 Jäger companies, 1 heavy weapons company, 1 detachment of pioneers and 1 reconnaissance troops. He knew that he would need jump qualified soldiers and began to scour the area for them. Despite having two Fallschirmjäger divisions to call on, he received no more than 150 experienced troops. This was partly because of other commanders being unwilling to give up experienced soldiers on the eve of battle, but mainly due to the prevailing situation in the Fallschirmjäger divisions at this stage of the war. The simple truth was that the Fallschirmjäger divisions no longer retained much ability to operate in their intended role. Nonetheless, he gathered what he could and made preparations for the operation. His forces would be relieved by 6. SS-Panzer-Army elements if all went to plan, but in this he was unfortunate.

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The 6. SS-Panzer-Army commander, SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef “Sepp” Dietrich, was of little help. He gave no intention of providing reconnaissance of the drop zones, information of the enemy forces was non-existent and von der Heydte knew he would face communication problems, the mountains might block radio contact. Aware of this he requested carrier pigeons, to which Dietrich’s reply was I am not running a fucking zoo ! I am running an entire SS Panzer Army !. Dietrich’s only support was to provide some dummy paratroopers to drop and confuse the enemy. Left with little choice, the operation went ahead anyway. Aware of the allies dominance of the air, the decision was taken to drop the troops at night, something never done before by the Fallschirmjäger. This, combined with the inexperience of the soldiers meant that the troops would drop mostly without their weapons, these being dropped in metallic paratroopers containers with them. The scene was set …

These paratroopers had been dropped for the purpose of demolition, demoralizing communication and destruction of our tank destroyer forces in that area in order to soften up our southern flank. But Bütgenbach never fell. Reinforced by the Big Red One Division (1-ID), the Checkerboard Division (99-ID) again held. At 1800, Dec 18, the entire 99-ID went into attachment with the 2-ID which had moved southward closing the front. The following day the remainder of the division assembled a straggler line at Elsenborn with the exception of the 3-395-IR at Höfen and the 99-Recon at Kalterherberg. The bitter German attacks continued all through the 19 and 20 but the 2-ID, the 99-ID and the 1-ID had held their ground. During the nights of the 18 and 19, Recon had received heavy enemy artillery fire. By the 20 all was quiet with Recon again. It seemed that the road net had been saved and all was safe.

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To the north, the 38-Cav-Recon and the 9-ID were both in contact and a solid wall or northern promontory into the Ardennes salient had been maintained. Back toward Malmedy, Stavelot, and Dinant westward to Bastogne and even northward to near Liège the poisonous torrent of Germans had been seeping recklessly through. All along its fringe, terrific fighting had gone on and was continuing; the gold of combat training was being tried in the furnace of vital battle responsibilities. Anywhere, a crack in the dam, and another flood. Such was the combat situation. The Germans in the division area quieted suddenly down, either abashed or willing to let others who had stabbed further through bear the brunt of their fighting. However, Jerry was not to let the 99-Recon sit in the middle relaying messages, holding down over a mile of front and the forward observation post for the 38-CRS (9-ID) (thereby releasing almost 1000 other men for combat elsewhere) without a taste of the brand of hell. Seemingly in a desperate last attempt to try to find a weak spot and avenge the former failures, at 0630, December 22, the enemy struck again, this time at the 99-Recon, first at her 1st Plat. By now, since December 20, this Troop had been forward outpost line in the main line of resistance of the 38-Recon which had moved south and also, since December 21, had been in attachment with the 47-IR (9-ID) which had just moved into Kalterherberg behind them.

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Let us reflect again on the bigger battles in the Monschau – Krinkelt – Rocherath – Bullingen – Bütgenbach, Ardennes sector just described earlier. The Troop as has been said was acting as a forward outpost line dug in on a battalion front outside Kalterherberg, in which the Troop CP was. Their placement in comparison to that of the bigger front, as of December 16 was on the right flank of headquarters provisional combat platoon (393/99-ID) had been situated north in the Rocherath sector. The 1st Plat was just to the south of the 3rd Plat, on the extreme north or left flank (395/99-ID) had been just south of the 38-CRS, defending in Monschau. Why this device of comparative placement is being used is to fit this far smaller, even minor engagement of the 99-Recon into the big divisional picture where it belongs. It was at Höfen in the northern sector at 0525, December 16, that the enemy had laid in a barrage and then thrown its full weight against 395/99-ID on the entire front in that sector. (The Bulge seemed characterized by the German propensity to attack at dawn similar to the Jap’s love of night operations in the Pacific).

Since the 394-IR and the 393-IR had been forced slowly back to their rear like a swinging gate they were all back on this same main line of resistance which now in one tiny sector had come under attack (the sector being the outpost line of the 99 Recon in front of the 9-ID and yet still to the left flank and north of the 99-ID). At times during this buildup of a main line of resistance (MLR) the 2-395 at Höfen and the 38-CRS at Monschau were threatened with being cut off from the 9-ID and other divisions on their right flank (it was for the Höfen area that the 99 Recon have performed so vitally in relaying communications). Now this little liaison unit itself was out there under the threat of the enemy and in danger of being cut off also. Were Recon not to hold out in this subsequent action, despite the bigger scale and successful withdrawal of the Monschau – Krinkelt – Rocherath – Bullingen, Ardennes arc, Höfen and Monschau might possibly yet become at least temporarily cut off. That at least was the most daring possibility in the enemy’s attack : to wipe out the 99 Recon and then turn north to Höfen and attack it on its weak western underside.

BA-December-1944-0701Thus with a flare bursting in the dark winter sky at 0600 was the signal of attack given. T/5 John Farone saw it and immediately reported it to Sgt Heber M. Cargile. The men got ready but the Jerries had two machine guns set up across the river on the east bank. Without hesitation they had started to infiltrate through the platoon, having waded the creek in the predawn, icy winter haze. In one case an enemy soldier crawled to within five feet of Pfc Owen Whitehead’s foxhole in the icy murk before he spotted him and toppled him. The situation was very difficult in the darkness. The enemy had already infiltrated through the trees. Now all this had occurred while darkness still remained, so back in the woods the 1st held up and reorganized for fear if they went back further that their own forces, on the main line of resistance, not recognizing them might shoot at them. Thus the efficiency of the 99-ID men had again steered clear of danger and a near disaster.

On Dec 16, the Battle Babies from the 99-ID had captured a document of Field Marshal Von Rundstedt’s which gave the proof that the German’s stiffening resistance was the beginning of a large-scale German offensive over an extended area. Likewise the Rcn’s rocket flare, which had been attached to a defensive booby trap across a bridge in such a way that disarmament of the trap set off the flare, had given the warning of another attack, this time much smaller, even insignificant by comparison, but by the same German methods. This attack later proved to be at least two companies if not a battalion of the 277. Volksgrenadier Division with concealed horse-drawn artillery in support to the rear in a higher wooded area. HQ Plat with Capt Lueders and Lt William Worley mounted into their seven armored vehicles after dawn and counterattacked against intense small arms fire, rifle grenades and 30, 60 and even 100 Meters Models Panzerfausts, only to be repulsed.

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On the right flank, HQ Plat had fallen back under orders of the Troop Commander and formed on the road to the CP. The 2nd Plat after holding off longer to their rear formed in the same assembly area and returned to the Troop CP per the same order. Thus in a few hours the entire right flank had moved back and reformed on the main line of resistance east of the CP in alternate defensive prepared positions almost 1000 Meters to their rear (alongside the 38/9-ID which flanked the 394 and 393-IRs further south near Elsenborn at the Division CP assembly area). By 1300 that afternoon all this had occurred including counterattacks by HQ Plat (Provisional) and the 1st Plat made into that part of the forward outpost line which was still being manned. (Although the 1st Plat had by this time apparently lost some of their personnel today they are all back again be it liberated or discharged from hospitals). Thus elements of the remainder of the first 11 enlisted men and the entire 3rd Plat still now remained on the original forward outpost line. Being cut off and surrounded their predicament became critical. Starting toward dusk the 3rd Plat under orders commenced to withdraw. It was here that we might well retrace our steps and size up the situation which between dawn and midday had brought up so many and varied tactical difficulties. While the 1st Plat was sizing up the initial German thrust and seeking to disengage themselves, the 3rd Plat had become cut off by enemy infiltration on both flanks. While endeavoring to establish messenger contact with one of their platoon outposts they captured 6 Fallschirmjäger of Von der Heydte Airborne outfit, all well within their lines.

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Thus a problem arose, the evacuation and interrogation of these prisoners of war. By wire communication with the CP a volunteer patrol was made up by Lt William K. Worley there in order to move to the 3rd Plat area and evacuate the prisoner bag of that platoon. Initial contact was easily made but the removal of the prisoners over the same terrain by this patrol revealed the full extent of enemy penetration into the 3rd Plat sector. (It was this action that prompted the Troop Commander to withdraw HQs and the 3rd Plat). It became necessary to knock out two enemy machine gun positions, add one more prisoner of war to the bag of six and kill or wound six more enemy. Called for reinforcements came up from 3rd Plat during this operation and the patrol finally disengaged itself successfully and without casualty. In their forward outpost the remainder of the 1st Plat had lost communications and contact could not be made although both the 1st Plat and later in the day Hqs and in the afternoon the 2nd Plat with the 3-47/9-ID counterattacked vigorously toward theirs and the 3rd Plat’s positions. However after darkness by 2300 the 3rd Plat under Lt Richard E. Staley had successfully infiltrated through the enemy lines bringing two of their wounded with them, leaving one behind (Lt Staley being the last man out), having held out for 12 hours, capturing six prize prisoners of war and in many ways having saved the situation. Certainly their courageous resistance and ability to stand up under enemy fire after friendly contact was lost facilitated the displacement of the other platoons to their alternate defensive positions all of which also had occurred without a casualty.

By this time the Troop had been reinforced by the 3-47-IR which had counterattacked in the late afternoon and continued until dark in conjunction with the 2nd Plat in endeavoring to clean the enemy out of the hedgerows near the CP and around the 3rd Plat area in order to re-establish the forward outpost line. Finally observation posts were set up to the left of the CP extending north to the 1st Plat’s last armored car along the road facing the field where the action had just taken place against the same enemy who at dawn had boldly wadded through the Schwalm River through our positions on the west bank and almost succeeded in cutting off two platoons. 3rd Plat was therefore not in the Troop line that night. In the center of the line was the 2nd Plat and in front of the CP, Hqs Plat. It is well to point out here that while there had been a main line of resistance back of the Troop’s positions, this had ended behind the 1st Plat and had not extended as far north as the 3rd Platoon area.

Collecting-Burp-GunsRight now as the Troop was extended along this road where it remained for the next two days it was filling in this same gap in the main line of resistance, a gap of some 1000 yards. The following day the 47-IR dug in also on our left. That night the troop remained under heavy fire. The radio in the 2nd Plat armored car was knocked out but the operator stayed on his set. Communications and liaison of the 99 Recon remained superior. Taking stock at this time of the events that had transpired and against the background of the bigger theater of action around them, we find that Recon in its forward outpost position had more than served its purpose. That one flare that pierced the dark sky had fulfilled Recon’s objective to seek, see and report. They had gone beyond this and they had captured a compliment of 10 prisoners which gave lie to enemy operations on a broad scale and including six paratroopers, who once in contact with their other forces might have been extremely dangerous. An entire Troop of 4 platoons had extricated itself from an extremely critical predicament with admirable individual resourcefulness and timing. Within their ranks examples of heroism and devotion to duty had been born that the entire division was later to pay tribute to. They had with their 3rd Plat held a numerically superior enemy at bay and disengaged themselves efficiently to the extent that the enemy in the following two days was reluctant to attack the main line of resistance of which Recon was now a part. They killed an estimated 50 of the enemy. Their communications and liaison had been excelled only by the courage and dexterity with which they fulfilled its demands and orders.

On Dec 24, at about 2400 the entire Troop in vehicles moved through the snowy six miles to Höfen. Here they joined the 3-395-IR in attachment for the perimeter defense of Höfen. They moved into a creamery and accompanying houses. Their lines were drawn along the southwest of Höfen facing back toward their former positions at Kalterherberg and flanking the Höfen woods where large elements of the 277. Volksgrenadier Division were still known to be bivouacked. At 0430, on Christmas Day, a bridge and observation post to their front was reported captured by the enemy. With a squad of infantry and two armored vehicles they advanced to reconnoiter the position. Behind a screen of their own fire bracketed on and between two houses on the north bank of the creek they moved in on the positions. Artillery had already done its work and while earlier our infantry observation post had apparently lost its toehold here the enemy had also already withdrawn leaving behind one casualty who had been attempting demolition of the bridge, this telltale equipment laying scattered around him. Although at Höfen the Troop was still as much as ever on the front, action had finally subsided. True, the CP was bombed the evening of New Year’s Day, every day contact patrols went through to the 2-47-IR, on their left flank, to the rear and south of Höfen, and guard was never worse or colder or conditions more difficult. Yet a new phase of the battle in defense of Elsenborn and the Ardennes campaign had begun.

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The 277. Volksgrenadier Division of the German Wermacht had withdrawn along a line to the front of our divisions in a heavily wooded area and was making capital of all plateaus and elevated areas. They had apparently at some earlier date well studied this region for the defense and were using self-propelled artillery to good advantage on their elevated areas of observation, being at all times screened by wooded fronts. Their activity according to all available information was chiefly harassing and their objective strictly defensive as formerly of the Siegfried Line in the Sonntagshugel sector. They were during this period reinforced by some new units, 7 Companies, 1 Battalion and the 89. Volksgrenadier Division. Their armament was being replenished with individual automatic weapons; burp guns, machine guns and machine pistols for the defense of this heavily wooded area between Wirtzfeld and Alsen.

Battle-of-the-Bulge-011121Before we study how the 99 Recon fitted into this new phase of activity, let us appraise the action just terminated. Here the outfit that the 99 Recon had either relieved or filled in for had done some vital fighting. It is only right that some of the merit for this should reflect back upon the outfit whose presence in the line made it possible. This fighting outfit was the 2-395-IR less E and F Cos which were replaced by elements of the 2-ID. The 2-ID in turn had the 99 Recon in attachment to it in place of its two companies attached to 2-395, which in turn had been displaced in the line by the Recon. This same battalion coming out of reserve made the northernmost thrust into the Siegfried Line contacting the 38-IR (2-ID) on the left flank even after the German offensive had already begun. Dec 16, two days later at Rocherath, it defended its position against vicious infantry attacks at dawn supplemented by enemy armor thrusts to its right flank. Having performed its functions it withdrew to the straggler line at Elsenborn and withstood two more attacks before the intense enemy action subsided. Recon had played a vital part in the Bulge both tactically and physically.

On January 3 1945, 3-99 Recon went out on a patrol with the 2-47-IR to recover lost equipment and reconnoiter the area of the battle of December 22 into which they had previously so unsuccessfully counterattacked. On this patrol an attached medic of the 99 Recon again performed heroically under intense artillery fire and saved more lives while the patrol itself reached the objective. On Dec 30, a similar patrol had gone out with the 3rd Plat as an integral part. From Jan 3 to Jan 14, 24 men from Recon were attached to 2-395 for observation post work on their front line. From the Jan 11 to Jan 16, heavy mortar and artillery fire fell around the Troop CP.

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On Jan 15, the motor maintenance section was moved for safety’s sake to the rear to Foyr – Jalhay, while 3rd Plat was relieved of attachment to the 9-ID which it had been in since Dec 21, and on the Jan 17 went into position at Sourbrodt, for the 99-ID forward CP as a defense platoon. On Jan 27, through deeply rutted roads heavy with snow the Troop traveled 14 miles due west to close in on Sourbrodt. Here the 1st Plat had relieved the 3rd Plat as defense platoon for the Division forward CP, two days earlier, Jan 25. The following day or so motor maintenance had rejoined the Troop moving some seven miles southeast to Sourbrodt were the Troop went into bivouac in engineer dugouts. Once again it was Recon on reserve and was now once again in attachment to the 99-ID.

On Feb 5, rejoined by its 1st Plat just relieved of attachment as defense platoon to the Division forward CP, the entire Troop moved a cold, rainy 19 miles into Honsfeld. Here they watched the 82nd Airborne Division displace. The entire 99-ID had now been in attachment to XVIII Corps (Airborne) for three days during his transfer and displacement. They now reverted back to V Corps again. With this move began a new battle : the defense of Hollerath – Udenbreth – Losheim sector in Germany. Here for a week the three infantry regiments broke into the outer ring of Siegfried defenses along the sector, while Recon still in reserve reorganized and conducted a few classes for specialist personnel.

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Don’t Forget to Remember

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