99th Infantry Division (George 395) – Schleiden – Germany – 12-1944

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The early days of December 1944 witnessed major changes in the disposition of units of the US V Corps to permit the support of and to make possible offensive action in the sector of the Roer River Dams area in Germany. The 99th Infantry Division on December 12, held defensive positions extending from Monschau, in the north to the corps southern boundary in Losheimergraben (around the Losheimer Gasp), in Lanzerath and the Bucholz Forest, astride the Belgium and German border. The 395th Infantry Regiment was disposed defensively from north to south with the 3r Battalion in the Höfen area (Germany), the 2nd Battalion in front of Kalterherberg, the 1st Battalion being on the regiment’s right, southeast of Kalterherberg (Belgium)).

The General Situation

The mission of the 99th Infantry Division in the December offensive action was to participate in the V Corps offensive by conducting its operations under the same orders as the 2nd Infantry Division : attacking on the right flank of and in conjunction with the 2nd Infantry Division on December 13, to seize objectives in Germany, successively :

(1) The vicinity of the road junction northwest of Arenberg
(2) The ridge southwest of the road junction west of Schöneseiffen
(3) The Harperscheid – Schöneseiffen area then the Dreiborn area
(4) The Herhahn – Mörsbach area;
(5) A large area including the nose north of Dreiborn, the vicinity of Wollseiffen and the most important of all, the Urfttalsperhe (Urft Dam).

The 395/99-ID was assigned the mission of attacking in conjunction with the 2-ID while the 393/99-ID and the 394/99-ID for the most part remained on their defensive positions. Opposing the 99-ID in its zone of action were German units consisting of the, from north to south :

277.Field-Replacement Battalion
991.Infantry-Regiment
2/294.Infantry-Regiment

The enemies attitude in the entire sector during the period of December 9 to December 12 had been and continued to be too stubborn to resist any offensive actions.


The Company

George Co 395th Infantry, as part of the 99th Infantry Division, had him activated at Camp Van Dorn Mississippi, in the closing days of 1942, moved to Camp Maxey, Texas, in 1943 and sailed from the Zone of Interior on September 29 1944. The month of October 1944 was spent in England. Filler replacements of the company had been made up of those men who had been effected by the cut-back of the Army Service Training Program. Contrary to initial concern as to the probable attitude of these men on being released from the program, these men had made strenuous efforts to absorb in the minimum amount of time the training program in effect and to make the best possible soldiers. George Co made its combat debut in World War II on occupying defensive positions in the generally considered quiet Kalterherberg, sector on November 9. The defensive area assigned to the Company had permitted a portion of the company being quartered in houses in Kalterherberg while the remainder were out on position. Thus continual rotation of the men could be effected. With the exception of a few discomforts incident to the winter and a limited number of patrol skirmishes with the enemy, little action of any magnitude had taken place up until December 18. Casualties, which had been extremely limited, were chiefly of the non-battle variety with the exception of a number of shoe anti-personnel mine cases being sustained incident to the patrolling activity conducted in the sector.

Relief From Defenses

The 395-IR, less the 3rd Bn, which was to remain on defensive position at Höfen, Germany, was scheduled to effect movement into its assembly areas on December 12. Early on that day, motor movement of the 2/395, was initiated from Kalterherberg, to assembly areas in the Elsenborn, sector in preparation for the December 13 offensive. December 12 was a particularly nasty day. Considerable snow had fallen and continued to come down. The wind was sharp and strong, adding greatly to everyone intense discomfort. Vehicles were forced to proceed at reduced rates of speed with a large share of the time being devoted to keeping vehicles out of or getting them out of ditches.

Disposition of the Battalion

The 2/395, (less Fox Co attached to the 102nd Cavalry Group and on defense at Lammersdorf, Germany) closed into its assembly area during the late afternoon of December 12 in preparation for the attack on the following day. Easy Co (2/395) was attached to the 1/395 late on December 12 and subsequently moved off with the 1/395 in the initial phase of the attack on December 15. The 2/395 less two of its rifle companies, Easy and Fox, remained in Regimental reserve during December 13. Late on December 13 the 2/395 displaced some 3 miles forward bringing it up behind the attacking 1/395.

The Company Situation

George Co, the remaining rifle unit of the battalion, set up a perimeter defense of the 2/395 area for the night of December 13. At approximately 2300 on December 13 the Company Commander was ordered to report to the 395-CP. There he was informed by the 2/395’s CO that :

(1) Easy Co would revert to battalion control at daylight of December 14;
(2) The 2/395 would launch a coordinated attack on December 14 and that the probable zone of commitment would be in the gap existing between the 2-ID attacking on the left and the 1/395 on the right;
(3) The 2/395 attack order would be issued at 0700, December 14 at a point designated by the Bn CO;
(4) A heavy concrete enemy fortification in the probable zone of attack located on Hill 621, 3000 yards to the front, would ultimately be assigned to George Co for reduction;
(5) Assault Detachment equipment would be made available to George Co that night i. e. flame throwers, bangalore torpedoes, demolition charges and other items of a similar nature;
(6) Fox Co would revert to and be available to the 2/395 on December 14 or December 15.

The Company Commander of George Co returned to the Company CP and with the Executive Officer and Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon (who was to command the assault detachment) planned and discussed in as much detail as possible the provable actions for the coming day. No information of the enemy was available from battalion. Assault equipment was made available to George Co at about 0330 on December 14, immediately checked and preparations for the day completed as much as they could be in the light of known facts.

The Battalion Attack Plan

At 0645 on the morning of December 14, the COs of Easy and George arrived at the previously designated point to receive the battalion attack order. George Co had been left under the control of the Executive Officer who was preparing the company for immediate movement. At approximately 0715 the Bn CO arrived in the area he had designated on the night of December 13 and issued the following ‘fragmentary’ attack order. Speaking to the two company commanders the CO stated that : they knew what he wanted and that they should go get em. Having issued these somewhat limited Instructions the Bn CO immediately removed himself towards the rear. The two, to say the least startled, company commanders concerned, as soon as they could recover from the shock of the all too obvious, and with the aid of a few cigarettes, reached the conclusion that if the 1/395 was going to receive any assistance from the 2/395 they would have to take the initiative on their own. The plan devised and agreed on by Easy and George Cos’ COs was that :

(1) Easy Co would continue the attack from its presently held positions to the left of the 1/395 against comparatively light resistance of December 13 in an effort to relieve the left assault company of the 1/395 that had sustained terrific casualties on December 13;
(2) George Co would move forward behind Easy and echelon to the left rear and protect the left flank and rear of the battalion;
(3) Upon reaching a creek some 1500-2000 yards to the front, if not forced to do so sooner, George Co would commit itself in the gap to the left of Easy Co and the right of the 2-ID. It was calculated that by doing so George Co would be in a logical position to launch an assault on the fortified position on Hill 621, previously mentioned by the Bn CO on the night of December 13 as a target of the battalion.

Movement to the Forward Attack Area and Final Preparations

In accordance with the attack plan George Co moved out of its Regimental Reserve area of the night of December 13 at approximately 0830 on the morning. The company closed into its forward attack area at approximately 0945. Individual rolls and excess equipment were dropped. Those who had not eaten their C rations earlier did so at this time. The Company command net was checked. Weapons and ammunition received attention, and final preparations completed. Attempt to establish a radio contact with battalion was unsuccessful. The company had not received any communication from battalion headquarters since the issuance of the ‘attack order’ earlier in the day.

The only means of communication available to the company relative to contact with higher headquarters was by means of messengers. In view of this situation information which involved other than Easy and George Cos was completely lacking. No information of the enemy was available. George Co was up to about 85% strength and in spite of the cold and obviously vague situation moral had not been adversely effected to any great degree. The zone of action of the company was heavily wooded rolling ground with little undergrowth, covered by about a foot of snow. Fields of fire up to 200-300 yards were excellent. The weather had moderated somewhat from the previous 72 hours. One full C ration was issued. The officers and NCO’s completed their last minute checking and prepared to move their units forward on command.

Initiation of the Offensive Action

George 395 moved out of its forward attack area at 1030 on the morning of December 14. The formation assumed was :

1st Platoon
Company Command Group
3rd Platoon
1st Platoon (How Co) (attached)
Weapons Platoon
remainder of HQs Co
2nd Platoon

Following Easy Co at a distance of two to three hundred yards and echeloned to the left rear the leading elements of George Co covered the movement forward of a unit which was engaging in its first offensive action against the enemy.

The roughness of the terrain covered by snow impeded movement so as to reduce the rate of advance considerable. The air was cold and crisp, moral high. Following a month of defending a commonly known weak sector these ‘green’ comparatively untried troops were anxious to create a position for themselves in the hall of Combat Infantrymen. The company moved forward under the protection of flank patrols, each element maintaining its assigned distances. After proceeding approximately 1500 unopposed yards small arms fire broke out in the direction of advance of Easy Co. Shortly thereafter the Company CO, radio man and runner of George Co worked forward to the halted leading elements of the company. The 1st Plat had advanced to a position astride a small creek with its leading elements part way up the very steep reverse slope of a high hill. A hasty check proved that this was the point at which George Co would move to the left flank of Easy Co and that the hill the leading elements was on was apparently Hill 621, the one on which the enemy fortified position was supposed to be located.

At this time, approximately 1130, enemy artillery and mortar fire began to fall on that portion of the company which was strung out on the forward slope and top of the hill to the rear of the 1st Plat. Believing that the steepness of Hill 621 would afford protection from the artillery fire, the Company CO ordered the remainder of the company forward as rapidly as possible to occupy temporary defensive positions in close proximity to the ground being held by the 1st Plat. Heavy, but ineffective enemy machine gun fire was being directed against the left flank of George Co from the head of a draw 500-600 yards to the left front in the gap between the left flank of the company and the 2-ID. The 1st Plat on moving to the left of Easy Co when Easy had become engaged had inadvertently created a gap of from 200 to 250 yards between it and positions being held by Easy Co. The 3rd Plat of George Co on successfully completing the crossing of the creek and gaining the protection of Hill 621 was committed in this gap on the companies right flank to close it. The remainder of the company plus its attachments was moved up behind the two forward platoons.

Almost 50,000 SCR-300 Walkie-Talkie units were produced by Motorola during World War II, with the first production sent by air for use in the invasion of Italy in July of 1943. (The SCR-300 Backpack Radio Manual is the – TM 11-242). The Radio Set SCR-300 and SCR-300-A consist of an 18-tube, crystal controlled portable receiver and transmitter, designated BC-1000 (or BC-1000A), along with batteries and accessories such as the case, handset, and two lengths of whip antenna. It has an innovative tuning that sets both receive and transmit frequency in tandem along with integrated calibration. A squelch circuit is provided to minimize roar in the high-gain circuits when there is no signal. The SCR-300 utilizes the frequency band of 40.0 to 48.0 mc divided into 41 channels of 200 kc. The transmitter power is 0.3 watts with a range of 3 miles with the longer antenna. The BC-1000 was used with the same frequency band in the AN/VRC-3 (used in tanks) so the two sets could intercommunicate between armor and infantry. The entire SCR-300 assembly weighs between 32 and 38 pounds depending on the batteries used (BA-70 or BA-80). The Radio Set SCR-300 was issued with War Department Technical Manual TM 11-242, 15 June 1943 and later dates.

Enemy artillery and mortar fire which had continued to fall was now having little effect on the company because the hill to the front did mask the slope. Shortly thereafter the enemy artillery and mortar fire lifted. Enemy machine gun fire from the left flank however, did continue, but still with little effect. Easy Co on the right was being subjected to heavy small arms fire. Contact with battalion by SCR-300 could not be established. The situation other than George and Easy Cos immediate sector was entirely unknown. Information was unavailable as to the progress of the 2-ID on the left nor of the 1/395 on the right flank of the 2/395. For all practical purposes, there was nothing in rear of the company. According to calculations of George Co’s CO, the fortified position which was to be eliminated was not more than 500-600 yards to the immediate front on the high ground of Hill 621. Observation to the front from the company position was limited because of the hills, military crest and the very heavy woods, which furnished excellent concealment. Sending a runner to Battalion Headquarters to inform them of the situation, positions of the company were consolidated, digging in initiated, and preparations completed for the dispatching of a scouting patrol against the position to the front.

Reconnaissance

Lt Daniel P. Juraschek, of Washington DC, who had been awarded the honor of leading the assault detachment as official recognition of his becoming a man on his 21st birthday on the following day (December 15), was designated as Reconnaissance Patrol Leader. In order to familiarize men of the assault detachment with the actual terrain surrounding the fortified position the patrol was made up of men that would be included in the formation of the detachment. Also included in the patrol were the Artillery Field Observer who would attempt to conduct the necessary registrations to support the attack and the Platoon Leader of the heavy machine guns who would furnish close support to the detachment. Great care was exercised in selecting the general route to be followed by the patrol. Of a necessity detailed reconnaissance of the actual enemy position could not be planned until such time as the patrol was in a position to ascertain to what degree their movements would be restricted by retaliatory enemy activities. Following in the path of lead scout, Pfc Felix X. Clark of Brooklyn New York, the patrol cautiously moved out of the company area at 1430 to in part : (a) Locate and pin point the fortification; (b) Determine the types and depth of passive defense measures, paying particular attention to protective and tactical wire; (e) Locate and determine the number and sector of firing embrasures that would have to be considered in the assault of the position; (d) Determine the types and locations of enemy field fortifications supporting the concrete box; (e) Locate and determine the type of any mine fields.

By 1700 the patrol had worked its way back to the Company position and although being subjected to sporadic enemy machine gun fire the patrol had been remarkably successful in obtaining essential information on the fortification which was : (a) The position had been pin-pointed about 400 yards over the military crest, on the high ground of the hill that the company was disposed on; (b) The fortification apparently was of the heavy reinforced concrete type; (c) The position was completely wired in with both double apron protective and tactical barb wire entanglements; (d) Two firing embrasures would have to be silenced in the reduction of the position; (e) The ground completely around the position was prepared with dug in positions but apparently were not being manned during the time the position was under the observation of the patrol. It was apparent to the patrol that If these enemy positions were manned during the attack that they would do much to deny to the assault detachment the probably small sectors of dead space in the two firing embrasures of the concrete emplacement.

It was immediately decided that the remaining hours of daylight would be devoted to the completion of the attack plans for the reduction of the position. A tentative time for the assault of the position was established for 1100 on the following day. Following detailed deliberations, taking into consideration the information brought back by the patrol, the organization of the assault detachment determined on was as follows : (a) Assault Detachment Leader; (b) Assistant Detachment Leader; (c) 2 Demolition Men, each carrying 15 pounds of high explosives; (d) 2 Wire-cutting Men, each carrying one section of Bangalore torpedo; (e) 2 Flame-thrower Men, each carrying a flame-thrower; (f) 2 Riflemen, each carrying 1 spare section of Bangalore torpedo; (g) 2 Assistant Flame-thrower Men; (h) One Platoon of Heavy Machine Guns; (i) One Section of Light Machine Guns.

In addition to their individual arms and detachment equipment each man also was to carry a limited supply of hand grenades.

The Night Prior the Assault

A gap of approximately 100 yards still existed between Easy and George Cos but was effectively blocked by a well laid enemy mine field of Bouncing Betties anti-personnel mines (S Mine).

German S Mine (Springmine)
Functioning
– Pressure Fuze S Mi Z35
– Pull Fuze ZZ35
– Pull – Tension – Release Fuze ZUZZ35
– Electric Ignition Fuze ES Mi Z40

1 – Flash from fuze sets off a 4,5 sec pellet.
2 – Pellet ignites black powder propelling charge.
3 – Powder charge projects inner case upward and ignites short delay pellet.
4 – Short delay pellet sets off the detonator and main charge when mine is between 3 and 7 feet in the air.
5 – Main charge scatters over 300 steel balls and metal fragments of case up to 200 yards.

Contact with the 2-ID on the left had never been gained and the extent of the existing gap was not known. All attempts to establish other than messenger contact with the Battalion Headquarter had met with dismal failure. A friendly artillery concentration during the late afternoon of December 14 had been brought down on Easy Co causing great damage. Information obtained later on from personnel of Battalion Headquarter indicated that this concentration had been called for by the Battalion Commander without being called for by either of the assault companies and in spite of the fact battalion could not have known locations of the companies. Easy Co’s CO, Capt Richard E. Hornby of Trenton, New Jersey had been hit and the company was being led by the Executive Officer. No information was available as to the situation of the 1/395. Cold C rations once again constituted the evening meal. Resupply of water was accomplished by sending carrying parties to the rear with loads of canteens. By 1800 the company had dug in as well as the ground would permit, solid rock was encountered anywhere from one to two feet down.

At about 2300 enemy artillery began to register on the position causing considerable damage because the enemy apparently was firing into the tree tops and trunks thereby obtaining the same effect as time fire. Shortly prior to daylight the enemy releases a surprise counterattack which was repulsed with a minimum of effort. The enemy had not displayed much aggressiveness during the action, withdrawing quickly after being engaged. No casualties were sustained. It appeared that the reverse-slope defense that the company had assumed had the enemy confused as to the units exact location and intent.

Day of Assault

Daylight seemed to ease the slightly tensed nerves of the night. Information relative to Easy Co being shelled by friendly artillery unfortunately had passed on throughout the company. This information coupled with the absence of battalion control or influence had created an unhealthy mental state in the men. Once again C rations were consumed. Communications with Battalion Headquarters was still limited to foot messengers. The Battalion Headquarters it was learned from returning messengers was located roughly 2500 yards to the right rear of the two assault companies. It was further learned that Fox Co had reverted to battalion control and had been placed in position to protect the Battalion CP. The A and P Platoon of the Battalion Headquarters Company was being continuously employed in logging in the Battalion CP. On checking the company positions the Company CO found Pfc Clark who had acted as scout on the reconnaissance patrol of the preceding day, lying on the ground outside of his fox hole. Further investigation revealed that Clark had been hit by artillery fire during the night. However, he requested that he be permitted to remain with the company to complete his assignment as one of the Demolitions Men of the assault detachment before being evacuated. His request was granted. Particular mention is made of this incident in view of the part Pfc Clark played in the ultimate success of the assault detachment.

Plans for the assault in part included : (a) That the assault detachment would move forward to reduce the position at 1100; (b) That the Company Command Group would move up with the assault detachment to a point from which the entire operation could be under direct observation; (c) That the support platoon of the company, the 2nd Plat, would move up behind the assault detachment taking up a position securing the left flank of the zone in addition to being in a position to furnish any additional support required by the attacking elements; (d) The remainder of the company was to remain on the alert under the direct control of the Company Executive Officer in its present position, prepared to move out on orders; (e) Radio contact in addition to visual contact would be maintained between the assault detachment Leader and the Company CP.

The Assault

At approximately 1100 the assault detachment led by Lt Juraschek cautiously inched its way forward through the heavy woods surrounding the enemy position reaching their previously selected assault positions under cover of the woods. On signal from the Detachment Leader the artillery Forward Observer called for the previously registered concentration on the enemy position to force the defenders to ‘button up’ their fighting embrasures while the two sections of heavy machine guns, one section to each embrasure, effected their move into previously selected firing positions. The concentration was on the target, effectively neutralizing the fire of the fortification. Immediately, retaliatory enemy artillery fire commenced coming in. However, because of the mask created by the hill the fortification was on, the shells passed a few yards overhead and burst 100-200 yards to the rear of the assault detachment. The supporting artillery fire of the assault unit was lifted and the detachment waited tensely for the heavy machine guns to take up their mission of keeping the firing embrasures of the ‘pill box’ buttoned up while the detachment breached the wire and moved in. Machine gun fire broke out from the ‘box’; a hasty check with the Detachment Commander revealed that the attached heavy machine guns had not had sufficient time to go into position. The Artillery Forward Observer was instructed to repeat the concentration.

This time the machine guns were successful in reaching their positions and immediately took up rapid fire as soon as the artillery support lifted. No enemy movement had been observed in the open trenches surrounding the fortification and no direct fire was being received from other than the firing embrasures of the fortification. Pfc Spencer, was now snaking himself forward pushing two assembled sections of Bangalore torpedoes across the snow in front of him. Finally reaching the double apron barb wire he slid the charge under the wire, pulled the fuse lighter and quickly dove for cover.

Both sections of heavy machine guns were forced to fire at their sustained rates of fire in order to force the defenders, to keep their firing embrasures closed. The section of light machine guns had gotten into position effectively covering the left flank, also being in position to support an emergency. One, then two minutes went by and then it was realized that the Bangalore torpedo was a dud. Once again Pfc Spencer, this time on his own initiative, wormed his way forward under cover of the machine guns. Quickly refusing the charge Spencer again ignited the fuse and once more made a hasty withdrawal. This time the protective wire was breached with a roar and the Assault Detachment poured through the gap. At this time small arms fire broke out against the left flank of the company but was quickly silenced by the 2nd Plat which had moved up into position covering that flank. The Assault Detachment had now reached their assigned positions close into the enemy emplacement working themselves into the slight dead spaces 15 to 20 yards from the corner of the fortification between the two firing embrasures. Both of the flame-thrower men had worked their way as far forward as possible and were in excellent positions to cover the Demolitions Charge men in the all important task of placing their charges in the embrasures.

The machine guns continued to do a most effective job of keeping down the fire from the ‘box’ itself. Both flame-thrower men were working frantically to get their equipment into operation to blind the defenders of the emplacement. Precious seconds passed and still neither of the flamethrowers were in operation. Pfc Felix X. Clark realizing that the situation was critical and without the important protective cover of the flame-throwers, entirely on his own initiative, rushed forward into the hail of machine gun fire ricocheting off the concrete emplacement, placed his charge against the right embrasure and quickly dove for cover. Seconds later there was an ear splitting roar, the position had been breached by the blowing in of the embrasure. Quickly enemy defenders came pouring out of the rear of the emplacement hands in the air. Hastily rounding up the enemy survivors two of the detachment members started them moving to the rear while the remainder of the detachment finished cleaning out the fortification. Pfc Clark in assisting in the removal of the prisoners from the emplacement area stepped into an unnoticed antipersonnel mine field and was instantly killed. The detachment immediately placed out the necessary security to cover the reorganization of the position. Reduction of the position had been effected by approximately 1230.

Enemy wire communications were still in operation to the fortification and excited German voices could be heard trying wildly to establish communications with the position. It was decided to sever these communications and five minutes later the Germans began an intense artillery shelling of the position, directly onto the ‘box’ itself. This continued for some time but finally lifted. The security which the detachment had placed outside of the concrete emplacement was subjected to a terrific shelling but could not be withdrawn into the ‘box’ for fear of being counterattacked. The shells bursting on the box itself had no effect on the detachment. The remainder of the company was now moved forward to positions supporting the fortified position which it had been discovered enjoyed one firing embrasure to the rear which covered a limited sector of the ground in that direction and made a formidable contribution to the strength of the company position.

A messenger was dispatched to Battalion Headquarters informing them of the situation. An inspection of the fortified installation showed that the satchel charge placed by Pfc Clark had torn the steel embrasure door off of the guides thereby effectively breaching the position. The installation had five large rooms separated by steel doors, the walls were from three to four feet in thickness. The steel rear door could be reached only after a zig-zag course through concrete corridors. The two embrasures which had faced the assault detachment effectively covered the entire sector through which the assault had been made. The two 105 howitzer concentrations which had been fired on the position in support of assault detachment had succeeded in knocking out a small number of pieces of concrete about half as large as the average hand.

The assaulting force had sustained 2 killed. The enemy had sustained 2 killed and 13 captured. Battalion Headquarters had not as yet established contact with George Co but on being advised by the company of its success sent forward a man from the S-2 section to sketch the fortification. George Co had by this time been out of contact with Battalion Headquarters since approximately 0800 the preceding day. During that time no information had been furnished or any control exercised over the Company by Battalion Headquarters. To sum up the results of this action : the assault detachment of George-395, did succeed in reducing, in commendable fashion, the fortified position in the zone of action. The importance of the action as contributing to the ultimate success of the Company or of the Battalion was never to be known as the enemy initiated its counteroffensive in the Ardennes on the following day, December 16, bringing to a grinding halt the December offensive of the V Corps.




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