442-NISEI-RCT – Bruyères – Biffontaine (The Lost Battalion)

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Operations of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during the Vosges Mountains Campaign, France, September 29 1944 – November 20 1944. Personal Experience of a Platoon Leader, Lt John D. Porter

Introduction

The 442-RCT, an all volunteer unit often called the Nisei, was made up of Americans of Japanese Ancestry (AJAs). The composition of this Combat Team was as follow : the 100th Infantry Battalion (later designated 442-IR), the 522-FAB and the 232-ECC (Engineer). The 100th Battalion was the first unit of the team to be activated. It was formed in Hawaii shortly after Pearl Harbor and immediately sailed for the States to receive its Basic Training which was completed at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. The battalion then moved to Camp Sehlby, Mississippi, for Advanced Training and upon completion, participated in the War Department Maneuvers of 1943.

The month of August found the 100th Battalion en route to a staging area at Clamp Kilmer, New Jersey, and by the end of the month it was preparing to land at the Port of Oran in North Africa. One week later, on September 6, the Battalion was assigned to the 34th Infantry Division. From then on the unit fought separately or as a part of the 442-CT from the beaches of Salerno across the Volturno and Rapido Rivers through Casino, Anzio, Rome and Leghorn.

On September 1 1944, after forcing a crossing of the Arno River in the Pisa Sector, the 100th Battalion led the left flank of Clark’s 5-A in its drive for the Gothic Line. A few days later the battalion was relieved and sent to Rosignano to await the balance of the Combat Team.

Shortly after the 100th Battalion was formed, the war Department continuing its policy of allowing all Americans of Japanese extraction to bear arms for their country, activated the balance of the Combat Team : 442d Infantry Regiment, the 522d Field Artillery Battalion and the 232d Engineer Company. This activation took place at Camp Shelby, February 1 1943. An intense training program was set up for these units and by the end of the year, the balance of the Combat Team was ready for the fight.


In a haze of waterproofing, crates, inspections, and shipping lists, the 442-CT (less the 1st Bn), set sail destination, Italy. The 442 joined the famous 100th Battalion which was now attached for operations and became a complete Combat Team attached to the 34th Infantry Division. Into battle, the unit plunged spearheading the 5-A attack. Villages in their turn were taken by this fighting force after bitter combat as they fought up the Italian Peninsula.

After assisting in the capture of Leghorn the Combat Team was detached from the 34-ID and split for the moment with Lt Col Gordon Singles leading the 100th Battalion into positions on the Arno River, Pisa sector and left flank of the 5-A. The balance of the Combat Team, led by Col Charles W. Pence, took positions on the right flank of the 5-A along the Arno River just on the western outskirts of the city of Florence. The 2/442 and the 3/442 were given the mission of holding the line for the 88-ID to which the Combat Team was attached and at this point were committed to aggressive patrolling probing the enemy’s positions day and night.

This fencing and probing action continued until September 1 when the entire 5-A front exploded into action. Spearheading the Gothic Line drive, the 2/442 and the 3/442 crossed the Arno River at flood tide and were pushing north along Highway 66 when they were relieved and sent to Rosignano on the west coast of Italy just south of Leghorn to join the 100th Battalion.

During all these operations the 522-FAB, and the 232-EC supported the Combat Team. The superb shooting of the artillery was always a great factor in the outcome of the battle, sometimes the difference between defeat and victory. The engineers never seemed to find a job too hard to tackle. Mine field after mine field was cleared, often under artillery and small arms fire. Many bridges were constructed. Whenever a river was to be forced, an engineer officer was included as a member of an infantry patrol. Crossings were made to the enemy side for necessary engineer information to help accomplish the mission.

Thus, a great fighting team was now assembled at Rosignano awaiting orders. The waiting time was quite short; orders were issued to move to Naples. The movement by land and sea was completed in good time. Arriving in Naples the 442-RCT was immediately bivouacked in a staging area better known as the Dust Bowl. Waterproofing was again in fashion. To all troops, this meant a boat ride somewhere. This proved to be correct.

Assignment Seventh US Army

The regiment had been assigned to the 7-A during the initial planning stage for Operation Dragoon, the Invasion of Southern France. Plans called for the Nisei to be in France by D+45 and that was the Regiment’s destination.

Depart Italy – Arrive France

On September 25, the convoy consisting of four transports and their destroyer escorts made way from the Bay of Naples up the Italian Boot through the Straits of Bonifacio lying between Sardinia and Corsica and to Marseille, France, arriving September 29 1944. The Combat Team debarked via the Jacob’s ladder into LCVP’s and were put ashore late in the afternoon. That evening found part of the team bivouacked in one of the city parks of Marseille. The balance of the team including the 100-IB had moved to Septernes, a nearby suburb.

Early the next morning trucks moved the unit to a staging area not far from Aix-en-Provence. The weather, the next few days, was just a preview of what was to come. On October 10, the 442-RCT less its 3/442 moved out of the mid, entrucked, and with the rain playing a sharp tattoo on the tarpaulins of the GMC’s, the two battalions were on their way to the front. The 3/442, en-training the next morning in 40&8 boxcars was following close behind.

The move up the Rhone Valley through Bourg, Besançon, Vesoul, and finally to Epinal was made in three wet cold weary days with only one incident. Passing through Montélimar the men saw the shattered remnants of the German 19.Army horse and motor convoy which had been knocked out by the 3-ID and the 36-ID and which had then been well worked over by the 12-TAF (AAF). The incident is mentioned as it was a fine morale booster and for some time after, the unit was in high spirits.

US VI CorpsAfternoon of October 12, found the 442-RCT (less 3/442) in bivouac in a rear Assembly Area in the vicinity of Charmois-devant-Bruyères approximately four miles from the Main Line of Resistance (MLR). The next day it was made known to all troops that the team was now attached to the 36-ID, a part of the VI Corps, 7-A.

At this time it seems apropos to acquaint the reader as to the situation existing on the 7-A front and to give some of the underlying reasons for this situation. A waning sunnier found the rapid offensive of veteran 7-A troops slowing to a halt. A stalemate was setting in. Operation Dragoon as the offensive was known, had been halted due to a lack of vital supplies. This lack of supply was also holding up the 3-A an the 7-A’s left flank.

They had been ordered to assume a defensive role until the necessary supplies could be accumulated so the attack could again be launched. The Germans were now dug in on the steep slopes and forests of the Vosges foothills. Every day that American troops remained, on the defensive, allowed the Germans an opportunity to reorganize scattered troops and once again weld then into a capable dangerous force.

Gen Jacob L. Devers, Commanding the 6-AG, wished to stage an early offensive. But due to lack of troops; and supplies was unable to do. The German Army on the other hand, was exploiting the 7-A’s situation to the utmost. Besides reorganizing their old units, fresh troops were brought in to the front line positions and with their short supply lines the Germans were putting the finishing touches on the main fortifications higher up in the Vosges Mountains.

During the latter part of September, Gen Patch’s 7-A was increased by the transfer of the XV Corps to the 7-A. With the assignment of the XV Corps the 7-A now consisted of two Corps. The 7-A issued Field Order #6 which directed the VI Corps to advance on the German winter line on the Meurthe River and to take the key city hub and communication center St Die. It was at this time the 442-RCT now attached to the 36-ID joined in the attack. With the issuing of Field Order #6, it wasn’t long until VI Corps put out Operation Instructions #1 on Oct 11, outlining operations to secure the Meurthe River line, the first objective the City of Bruyères.

Operation to Capture Bruyères

On October 13, a warning order from the 36-ID’s HQ readied the 442-RCT for further action. October 13 and 14 was spent in reconnaissance of the forward areas by all commanders with the expectation of receiving attack orders momentarily. The missing 3/442 finally arrived on October 14, and was immediately oriented. The attack order was received from the division on October 14 and that afternoon the Regimental CO issued his attack order.

In general, it was as follows : pass through the forward elements of the 36-ID and the 45-ID, then attack Bruyères from the west. The 100-IB and 2/442 on the line, the 100-IB on the left, the 2/442 on the right and the 3/442 in reserve. The left flank of the regiment was the division’s left which gave the mission of flank protection and maintaining contact to the left to the 100-IB. The 179-IR (45-ID) was on the regimental left and the 143-IR (36-ID) on the right. In direct support was the 552-FAB and the 232-EC. Mission : capture that part of Bruyères in assigned sector. Time of attack : 0800, October 15.

522-FAB-Bruyères-1944-Oct-18

Bruyères natural defenses are good. Southwest of the town flow the Vologne River approximately thirty-five feet wide (10.5 M). A number of irrigation ditches from the river turn the surrounding land, into a marsh thus restricting movement to the roads. High trees growing along the secondary roads leading south had been fallen to block travel. Covering these road blocks were buildings organized as strong point and extensive use as made of mines and booby traps. AT guns and automatic weapons were employed in great numbers. Inter-looking bands of machine gun fire on the edge of town made penetration rather a rough go.

Key terrain and critical features were four hills in the vicinity of Bruyères. For tactical deference they were lettered A, B, C, D. Under cover of a early twilight the regiment moved into forward assembly areas just short of the Line of Departure. Sporadic shelling of the area throughout the night caused some casualties and twenty man of Able Co, the reserve company of the 100-IB, were hit before arriving at the Line of Departure.

H hour, October 15, found the regiment surging into action. The 100-B with Charlie and Baker Cos on the line (moved from its positions in the Forêt de Faite up a narrow trail toward its 1st objective, Hill A; passing through the 3/179-IR (45-ID). Only a short distance was covered when the Kraut opened up with small arms and automatic weapons. No result for the day, approximately a quarter mile gain with the 1st objective yet to be taken.

The 2/442 fared no better. Moving out through similar wooded area, the battalion encountered heavy small arms fire and gained very little. Both battalions were being subjected to intensive mortar and artillery fire. Accurate harassing fire from enemy artillery allowed the Nisei little chance of even fitful sleep.

Dawn of October 16, the regiment pushed on with little change in the situation. Road blocks were reduced and cleared of enemy by the infantryman, but when the engineers came to tear the road blocks down, they would again be covered by die-hard Krauts who would hide until the attack had passed by and then re-man the road blocks necessitating additional fighting by the engineers to dear the road blocks again.

Easy and Fox Cos (2/442) had occupied Hill 865 a small hill northwest of Bruyères by 1100 on October 16 but were pinned down by devastating fire when they attempted to push on Hill B. Two counterattacks of battalion strength supported by artillery, mortars, self-propelled guns and tanks were repelled. One attack came at dusk and the other the next morning just after dawn. Forward observers with the battalion brought down a rain of artillery fire from the 522-FAB and 4.2 mortars. This fire broke the back of the attacking force, but the companies were still flushing Germans, out of their defenses an hour or more after the attack. Six bazooka teams had been formed to give battle to the German armored threat.

The 100-B beat off a hard hitting counter-attack in their sector after an hour of nip and tuck fighting, where it appeared for a time, the enemy would break through the positions. Neither of the battalions were able to make any advances toward Hill A and B. Prisoners from the 19.SS-Police-Regiment and the 223.Grenadier-Regiment who were captured by the 100-B knew little of the big picture but talked rather freely of the situations existing within their companies. All were quite certain of one thing, they knew every unit had been ordered to hold until the last man.

bruyères-1944-02During the night of October 16, the rain began to fall whipped by a cold wind. Intermittent enemy artillery fire added its shrill evil voice to a miserable night.On the morning of October 17, the 100-B and the 2/442-RCT attempted to resume the offensive but were stopped as soon as the assault companies moved into the open toward Hills A and B. Elements of the 2/442 worked down to the base of Hill 555 which they were occupying and managed to dear a few houses but could not advance due to the heavy automatic weapons fire. The 3/442 moved into position on the right of the 2/442 during the night of October 17. The next morning all three battalions smashed on into the attack behind fire from the 522-FAB and other elements of the division artillery. The 100-B threw its weight against Hill A and after sharp close fighting secured the hill at 1400, killing many Germans, capturing twenty automatic weapons, and taking one 119 Prisoners of War. After six and one-half hours of fighting elements of the 2/442 knocked out the key machine gun in the defense of Hill B with 60-MM Mortar fire, and this hill located about 200 yards north and west of Bruyères was cleared.

With the clearing of Hill B, Love Co pushed into Bruyères fighting bitterly for each house and finally linking up at 1630 with the 1/143 (36-ID) which had attacked the town from the south. All the afternoon of October 18 and part of the 19, was spent in house to house fighting. No quarter was given and none was asked. The German fought desperately and would not even permit aid men to care for or evacuate the wounded. Finally, with the 1/143, the 442-RCT against savage machine gun and mortar fire, crushed the last island of resistance in the center of Bruyères and the town belonged to the Americans. Prisoners taken in the town were members of the 736.Grenadier-Regiment. Several prisoners taken were from 49.Fortress-MG-Battalion. Machine Gun Battalions normally were not used unless the Germans intended to set up a permanent defensive position. Bruyères was definitely no exception to this rule. On the afternoon of October 19, Hill D was taken by the 3/442 and a day later, the 100-B unleashed a vicious attack that drove the German from Hill C, concluding the operations to capture Bruyères.

Operations Toward East and O’Connor Task Force

With the Corps mission of taking the Winter Line in mind, Division ordered the Combat Team to continue the attack. Without a pause the Team pushed to the east. Hill D as aforementioned, was taken by the 2/442 and the 3/442. In so doing the battalions had, been forced to by-pass strong areas of resistance to continue the attack and fulfill their mission. As the 2/442 and the 3/442 drove forward, fire on the command posts and reserve companies was received and when the battalions were held up along a railroad embankment east of Bruyères on the edge of the Forêt-de-Belmont, the reserve companies fought to eliminate these pockets of resistance. Initially, the resistance had developed a slowly but once the battalion had contacted the Kraut battle positions along the railroad embankment, the fight was again raging.

By 1800, October 19, the leading companies were dug in on the west side of the embankment, stopped by enemy dug in on the east side who were determined to hold.

At 1030, October 20, the enemy launched a strong counter-attack on the regimental front supported by tanks and artillery. The attacking force withdrew after one of the tank’s had been knocked out by bazooka fire. On the afternoon, an enemy armored column was spotted moving down the road from Belmont toward the regimental flank. Col Pence, Combat Team Commander, sent a tank, a tank destroyer, and infantry task force to meet this threat. Before the two armored units met in battle four thunderbolt fighters bombed and strafed the enemy. Seven hits were reported on the column.

At 1710, the 2/442 and the 3/442 attacked preceded by an artillery preparation. This time the two battalions crossed the railroad embankment to the edge of the Forêt de Belmont where they were pinned down by heavy fire from the forest. The adjoining regiments on either flank had not advanced in proportion to the 442 consequently, the two battalions were a salient extending 2000 yards into enemy territory.

Believing a frontal attack would be too costly the Regimental CO aided by recently captured documents showing enemy defense positions, evolved a plan to bit the enemy on the left flank and at the same time push a frontal attack with the two battalions. Picking the reserve Fox and Love Cos, Col Pence selected Maj Emmett L. O’Connor to command this task force. After presenting his plan to its leaders, he named the grouped units Task Force O’Connor and had the unit move out.

The task force was to move to the south end of Hill 506 held by the Germans and at dawn on October 21 move to the top of the ridge and attack the enemy flank at 0900. The plan worked with clock-like precision. The attack was launched down the wooded north slope of the ridge. Love Co leading the assault, defeated a security group in a short sharp action capturing several prisoners. Then, by prompt use of rifle grenades and mortars, the garrisoned houses just outside the woods were quickly reduced.

The capture of these houses was an important factor in the success of the mission as it gave the task force observation on the ground to the enemy’s rear. To complete its work, the taste force now had to intercept enemy movement, drive a wedge through the forces resisting the Combat Team, and effect a junction with the main force. Heavy casualties were inflicted by artillery fire directed by the task force’s forward observer on the enemy positions.

Then the assault groups began to clear the defenders from houses to the north of La Broquaime. The capture of these houses divided enemy forces and trapped large numbers of enemy between the task force and the Combat Team.

That afternoon the operation was complete with the O’Connor Task Force rejoining the attacking battalions at La Broquaime where the last of the enemy resistance had been met. A disorganized enemy fled up the valley toward Belmont and temporary safety. This action advanced the divisional front lines about 2500 yards, produced 80 dead Germans, and 56 Prisoners plus materiel.

During this time the 100-B had not been idle. Moving from a reserve position it followed the O’Connor Task Force down the same trail two hours later, while the O’Connor Force turned to the left the 100-B, kept going up the trail following the ridge line to the northeast. The Battalion objective was to out the Belmont-Biffontaine Road by seizing the high ground around Biffontaine. The remaining enemy must surrender or be driven into the sector of the 7-IR (3-ID) now on the regiment’s left. The 100-B cut the Belmont-Biffontaine road net and then moved two companies to the high ground north of Biffontaine and two companies to the high ground southwest of Biffontaine. The 100-B, unobserved by the enemy, dug in to hold these positions until the 3/442 continuing the attack could clear the ground between Belmont and the 100-B. Belmont at this time had just been taken by an American Armored Task Force.

On October 22, the enemy discovered the 100-B positions and launched a counter-attack. The counter-attack was not of sufficient strength to penetrate positions held by the battalion but the situation was becoming critical as the battalion was out of food and water and was running out of ammunition. Attempts to resupply the battalion by Tank-Infantry forces were not successful.

However, considerable quantities of German small arms, MG’s, AT Guns, and Panzerfausts with ammunition were captured so that the battalion reequipped itself with German weapons and continued to fight without a great deal of inconvenience. On the following day a carrying party managed to slip through the enemy’s lines over a mountain trail and effect resupply.

During this time the 2/442 which had been in reserve had been put in the line to protect the flank of the 100-B. This mission was accomplished in the nick of time as the Germans had moved bicycle troops down the Biffontaine Valley during the night to out off the battalion. A short but bitter fight ensued and the German attack was repulsed with 6 POW captured.

On October 23, after a house to house, room to room fight the Battalion took Biffontaine killing a number of Krauts and capturing 58 prisoners. The following day, all units of the Combat Team were relieved by other elements of the 36-ID and put in Corps Reserve near Belmont for rest, hot baths, and hot meals which the men needed desperately. In these ten days of fighting the enemy guns were never silent day or night and even Corps Reserve was under fire from the enemy’s heavy artillery.

Actions to Relieve the Lost Battalion

The weapons of the regiment had hardly cooled when the Division CO directed the Regimental Commander to relieve the 3/141 (36-ID), immediately. Accordingly, Col Pence ordered the 2/442 into the fight again. With less than two days rest all of which was spent under fire from enemy artillery the 2/442 effected the relief at 0300, on October 26.

The relief was made on the extreme left flank of the division sector. There was a reason for this urgent relief of the 3/141. The 1/141 had over extended itself into enemy territory by 3 miles (5000 M) in a push down heavily wooded ridge that was the controlling terrain feature of the valley from Biffontaine to La Houssière. A strong enemy force had infiltrated behind the battalion and had it cut off. The battalion was ordered to fight its way back but was unable to break the steel ring of enemy fire from automatic weapons by which it was hemmed in.

The 2/141 and 3/141 driving with all the will and fire power they possessed were unable to break through to the Lost Battalion. This was the reason for putting into the fray some of the most aggressive troops in the Army of the United States with the mission : Save this Battalion. The balance of the 442-RCT relieved the remainder of the 141-IR at 0400 on a pitch black night on October 27. Losing no time the 442 launched its attack, the 2/442 on the left, the 3/442 in the center, 100-B on the right. Attached to the 3/442 was Dog Co 752-TB and Charlie Co 3-CWB (Chemical 4.2 mortars). Attached to the 100-B was Baker Co 752-TB, Dog Co, 83-CWB and George Co 636-TDB. Fire support of the Combat Team’s own 522-FAB was reinforced by that of the 133-FAB. The battalions were to be given as much fire support as could fee mustered at this time.

Progress was slow. At 1400, October 27, all battalions were abreast, but a large gap existed between the 2/442 and the 3/442. The enemy took advantage of this situation and made a tank-infantry counterattack. The attack hit Item and King Cos with King receiving the brunt of the attack on the left flank. The attack was repelled only after three hours of furious action in which the Armor penetrated to within seventy-five yards of the leading companies spraying the area with fire at point blank range. When the Germans withdrew one disabled Mark IV Tank was left behind.

Before continuing this action it is necessary to give a word picture of the terrain over which the Combat Team was fighting. The hills were exceedingly steep 600-700 feet in elevation covered with gigantic trees reaching high into the sky with heavy foliage out ting off nest of the light. Between these trees were second growth trees from one to two feet in diameter. Interlaced throughout the area and around the trees to the height of sometimes three feet were tough fibrous vines with long needle like thorns. These thorns were weapons in themselves and canalized much of the movement to narrow trails. In turn, these trails would be mined and covered by automatic weapons fire by a clever enemy. This was the country that protected the approaches to the Meurthe River and the German Winter Line.

The next morning, October 20, the attack continued. The fury of the fight was intensified and casualties were soaring, caused in the main by tree bursts from enemy artillery and mortar fire. There was no way for the attacking troops to escape this fire. Aid men showed great heroism disregarding any safety they might have with front line platoons. Time and again they exposed themselves to enemy small arms fire in an attempt to aid a comrade.

Many were wounded or killed following the unwritten code of a front line medic. The only way aid could be given to the fallen was to push on forcing the enemy to retreat allowing the aid men to reach the casualties. As soon as the enemy lost a portion of ground, he would bring down accurate concentrations of mortar and artillery fire almost immediately on the advancing troops.

In the 100-B sector enemy troops pulled back across a draw. As rifleman of Baker and Charlie Cos started after them, the Krauts dumped an hour long barrage in the draw that killed and wounded twenty of the men caught in the trap and brought the attack in the 100-B gone to a stand still. Chaplains of the 442-RCT showed no fear often going where the brave feared to tread. Such was their devotion to the men to whom they gave moral courage.

The 3/422 ran into the first of a series of antitank blocks on a wagon trail they were following. A company of infantry usually manned these block using Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck, machine gun and mortar fire to delay advancing forces. Deadly enemy sniper fire took a high toll to officers and men. German snipers were expert marksman and most of the casualties were from rifle shots placed between the eyes or in the area of the heart. The road block was cleared by heroic actions of individuals and the use of the Regimental Cannon Co. A forward observer from the Cannon Co brought direct hits down on the block destroying the barrier and a number of enemy.

German K-98 : For snipers, Karabiner 98k rifles selected for being exceptionally accurate during factory tests were fitted with a telescopic sight as sniper rifles. The Karabiner 98k sniper rifles had an effective range of up to 1000 M (1094 yd) when used by a skilled sniper. The German Zeiss Zielvier 4x (ZF39) telescopic sight had bullet drop compensation in 50 M (55 yd) increments for ranges from 100 to 800 M (109 to 875 yd) or in some variations from 100 to 1000 M (109 to 1094 yd).

There were ZF42, Zeiss Zielsechs 6x and Zielacht 8x telescopic sights by various manufacturers like the Ajack 4x and 6x, Hensoldt Dialytan 4x and Kahles Heliavier 4x with similar features employed on Karabiner 98k sniper rifles. Several different mountings produced by various manufacturers were used. The Karabiner 98k was not designed to accept telescopic sights. Attaching such sights to a Karabiner 98k required machining by a skilled armorer.

A telescopic sight mounted low above the center axis of the receiver will not leave enough space between the rifle and the telescopic sight body for unimpaired operation of the bolt handle or the three-position safety catch lever. This ergonomic problem was solved by mounting the telescopic sight relatively high above the receiver and sometimes modifying or replacing the safety operating lever or using an offset mounting to position the telescopic sight axis to the left side in relation to the receiver center axis. A common minor modification was replacing the stock butt plate with a waffled anti-slip “sniper” butt plate. Approximately 132.000 of these sniper rifles were produced by Germany.

The two battalions, the 100 and 3/442 had captured 70 prisoners by nightfall of October 28 and were 1500 yards nearer the Lost Battalion but only accomplished this with terrible loss of life. The 2/442 was fighting a similar war and in addition protecting both its right and left flanks as there were large gaps on each side of the battalion.

The 2/442 Commander, setting the stage for the capture of Hill 617, had George Co dig in near the base of Hill on the west side. The company was spaced widely apart and gave the appearance of a battalion entrenched. Able and Fox Cos moved in two squad columns abreast along a wagon road from Grebefosse, north through Hailey in the 7-IR’s sector (3-ID). They swung east to avoid crossing open ground which was under enemy observation and then south again cutting across Hill 585 occupied by George Co, 7-IR and up the ridge mass that ran into Hill 617.

At this time it was twilight and both Easy and Fox Cos dug in and held their positions astride the ridge. The Commander of Fox Co thinking he had moved down the ridge to a point just above George Co (which was dug in at the bottom of the hill) decided to send a platoon out to contact George Co, thereby encircling the enemy dug in on Hill 617 between the top of the ridge occupied by Easy and Fox Cos and the bottom where George Co was.

Moving down into the forest from atop the ridge, the platoon worked its way forward about 300 yards when it ran into heavy automatic weapons fires. Attempting to advance further, the platoon met small arms fire from camouflaged foxholes. It was soon apparent from the fire being received that the enemy was infiltrating around the unit.

By this time it was nearly dark so the Platoon Leader decided to try and cut through the enemy lines to friendly positions at what was believed to be the weakest point. Using two squads to hold off the dosing Kraut, the 3d squad was sent to open a path through the encircling enemy. This was accomplished after bitter fighting which, as the darkness increased, became hand to hand combat. Fighting its way out of this trap the Platoon cut the Kraut wire line and killed an estimated 10 of the enemy capturing 20 prisoners. The Platoon had two casualties. One of the prisoners captured was the CO of the 202.Mountain-Battalion (Gebrigsjäger Battalion) whose unit was opposing the 2/442. Enemy forces opposing the 100 and 3/442 were the 933.Regiment, 338.Infantry-Division and the 196.Grenadier-Battalion. Opposite the 2/442 was the 202.Mountain-Battalion newly arrived in the sector.

The 100 and the 3/442 jumped off on October 29, cleared one knoll and ran into the enemy’s main defensive position. The Kraut had dug in positions astride the ridge at the narrowest part. Maneuver was impossible as the sides of the ridge were too steep and were mined at this point. There was room for two companies in a frontal assault.

At this time all the deployed battalions received a message from higher headquarters that the Lost Battalion’s situation was becoming desperate and that relief must be effected immediately. The 100-B echeloned to the right rear, elected to go around the mine field and attempt to envelop the position deep on the flank. The position of the 3/442 allowed no alternative but to attack frontally. The attack was launched.

The Battalion CO, Lt Col Alferd A Pursell ordered his Company Commanders to turn the enemy’s right flank, but the slopes were so steep the men could not move with any rapidity and many were killed by small arms fire as they attempted to pull themselves to the top of the ridge by the growth along its sides. A platoon of tanks came up. The men regrouped and tried a frontal assault under the cover of direct tank fire but could not make the summit.

Part way up this time they could neither move up or down. Mortar fire was covering the Battalion front. Col Pursell taking a gamble ordered fix bayonets and prepare to charge. Item and King Cos moved forward to a frontal attack up the slope firing assault fire from the hip. The enemy fired as rapidly as his guns would permit. Men were blown to bits but others took their places. American dead, and wounded lay where they had fallen over enemy trenches they were assaulting, inside enemy dug cuts, on top of enemy already dead or dying. The Kraut had enough he fled from the positions leaving about 100 of his own dead and 55 wounded and all his automatic weapons behind.

On October 29, the 2/442 moved from astride its position on the ridge connecting Hill 617 and from information gained by the Platoon of Fox Co the day before they fought down the slope into the German positions on Hill 617. The Kraut made it a rough fight all the way but could not stop a determined attacker. The 2/442 killed again about 100 Germans and captured 41 prisoners. The attacks of October 29 had inflicted disastrous losses on the Germans. In maintaining their stand up to the last man, as ordered by Hitler, over three hundred and fifty Germans were captured or killed on this day.

October 30, found the 442-RCT within 700 yards of the Lost Battalion. The terrible fighting on October 29 had broken the back of German resistance. Against sporadic small arms fire and deadly tree bursts from increasing German artillery fire the Regiment moved on. At 1800 a patrol from Item Co led by T/Sergeant Sakeo Senzaki broke through the last Kraut resistance and made contact with the 1/141-IR, the Lost Battalion. A few minutes later a platoon of Baker Co made contact on the Lost Battalion’s other flank. One-half hour later the main bodies of both units were joined and the impossible had been accomplished. Immediately both battalions dug in using a circular defensive position around the hill-top where contact had been made. The 240 men of the 1/141-IR, had been trapped in that tightening ring of steel. When relief was effected, 193 men of the Lost Battalion, 26 of which were wounded, walked or were carried out alive. The 442-RCT had arrived just in time.

I think that our gratitude for their actions is matched only by the strength of the memories they silently preserve in the depths of their being. Let them all be reassured, however, because we will do our utmost to perpetuate the memory that we already pass on to our children, children who, in the end, are theirs too.

Campaign’s End

On October 31, with battalions at least than 50 per cent normal strength an attack was launched. The 2/442 and the 3/442 attacked down the same long ridge mass on which they had been fighting. It was finally cleared that afternoon with the battalions killing more Germans and capturing 80 more prisoners. During the next three days all units remained where they were holding defensive positions, and probing the enemy’s line to find out the disposition of his forces. While this patrolling was going on Jerry poured in hundreds of rounds of artillery and the ranks grew thinner with each passing day.

On November 3, the enemy attacked lightly held positions in the 3/442 sector. Item and Love Cos caught the Krauts in a cross fire, forcing them to abandon the attack. From November 3 to November 6 the 2/442 and 3/442 tried to run the Kraut all the way down hill and into the valley but met with only partial success. The 442-RCT at this point was not the strength of a full regiment having about seven hundred men in all. Company strength averaged about thirty-five men. Item Co had a total of five riflemen. King Co was commanded by a S/Sergeant. Most of the men still with the unit were suffering from trench-foot and respiratory diseases due to the almost complete lack of winter clothing.

The regiment was relieved on November 8 and moved to an area near Lepanges where the men bathed and received new clothes. On November 10, the 100-B was detached and sent to a rest area. From November 8 to November 12, the balance of the Combat Team rested. The morning of November 13 the Team took over holding positions on the division left flank in weather of ice and sleet, 2/442 on the line, 3/442 in reserve. November 15 found the 100-B on a surprise move now several hundred miles to the south taking over positions in the high Alps on the Franco-Italian frontier. Gen White, Seventh US Army CoS, after discussing the physical condition of the 442-RCT personnel with the Sixth Army Group, decided the Unit needed a warmer climate and so the 442-RCT was withdrawn from the line on November 17 1944. By November 20 they were on their way to Nice in Southern France.

During the Vosges Campaign, the 442-RCT through fighting, was cut to a shadow of the unit that had landed in Southern France a short two months before. In this campaign alone for individual heroism ten Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded, four Presidential Citations and one Division Citation were received. Numerous other decorations were also given.

For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Francorchamps 4970
Belgium
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be





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(NB : Published for Good – May 2019)

 

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