5. OVERSEAS AND COMBAT
On 30 October 1944, the winding, devious route of the troop trains ended in the railroad sidings of Camp Kilmer. The long, hard months of training in the humid heat and damp chill of Camp Polk, Louisiana, were over. The 8th Armored Division was ready to complete processing and embark for the European Theater of Operations.
Camp Kilmer was the scene of many "firsts" for Herders. Boat drills on the practice ship "Rock 'n 'Rye," banding mail to the censor, and executing wills consumed most of the time at the staging area. No one could complain that the processing was not thorough, although many 8th men felt that the POE personnel were oblivious to the personal problems of the men who were being pushed through the "machine" with great speed and efficiency.
Members of the Division whose homes were near Camp Kilmer had time for one more hurried farewell. Others were given the opportunity to visit New York or Philadelphia. A tragic note was the fatal accident just outside the gates of the Camp which took the life of Private First Class Harry Craigie of Headquarters Company, 7th Armored Infantry Battalion.
Final "shots" from the medics, the pre-shipment physical examination and the notice of restriction to Area 5 signaled an early departure from Camp Kilmer. On 6 November 1944 came the word to move out.
Many Herders will always remember the final retreat ceremony at Camp Kilmer. Several battalions of the Division, moving toward the trains which would carry them to New York, halted and formed alongside the road while Retreat was sounded. In striking contrast to the combat-equipped members of the Division were units of the WAC detachment stationed at Camp Kilmer whose members stood unencumbered by battle gear.
The evening meal that day was a box lunch which the men ate during the hour's ride to Jersey City. A brief ride on the ferry and a short hike brought the units of the Division alongside the ships which were to carry them to Europe.
Sergeant James McInerney was perhaps the last member of the Division to see any of his immediate family. As Battery B, 399th AFA, was loading aboard ship, Sergeant McInerney met his father, a dockside worker who had been assigned to load the 8th Armored Division.
An American Red Cross Service Unit was on hand with coffee and doughnuts when the men of the Division moved from the ferry to the transports. To a roll call of last names men shouted response of first names and middle initials as they labored up the gangplanks of the ships to be compressed into quarters for the crossing. Ships carrying personnel of the 8th Armored were HMT Samaria, USAT George W. Goethals, USAT Marine Devil, and SS St. Cecelia.
As the troops were methodically loaded into the darkened hulls of the waiting ships on the night of 6 November 1944, many a man, poised on the threshold of the unknown, honestly and humbly wondered what his own reactions to the holocaust of modern war would be. But no one questioned the ability of his platoon, company, or battalion to meet the test of combat. It was infinitely reassuring to know that the man who led this team, Brigadier General John M. Devine, had already proved himself a capable combat commander.
On the morning of 7 November 1944 as many Americans went to the polls to cast ballots for the next president of the United States, the men who belonged to the 8th Armored Division turned their eyes to the New York skyline as their ships eased out of Pier 45, Staten Island Docks, and headed to sea. As the ships closed in on the rendezvous area and the convoy was formed, a combined British-American naval team began to escort the Division across the Atlantic Ocean.
Some Herders soon discovered that they were poor sailors. Seasick men lined the rails of the ships and many an unfortunate accident occurred when a stricken man chanced to run to the winward side. Meals were served only twice each day and the more hearty souls who could keep food down seemed always to be hungry and complaining of long mess lines. Several sailors sought to benefit from this situation by vending sandwiches, but this practice was soon discovered and halted.
Tax-free cigarettes retailing in the Ships Store (PX) could be purchased for 5 cents per pack. PX items were abundant, although long lines had to be endured in order to reach the counter.
Each morning at 0930 the rasping, "Now hear this-," came through the ships' intercom systems signalling the beginning of daily boat drill designed to train all personnel to move to their assigned lifeboat stations in the quickest possible manner. Following boat drill the units assembled for a period of calisthenics or an hour's instruction in French and German.
There were, however, still moments to peer at one particular ship in the convoy which was carrying nurses. Card games, movies, and reading were favorite pastimes during other leisure moments. Constant companion on shipboard was the life jacket or "Mae West" which had been issued to everyone. Each of these jackets was equipped with a one-cell red light which was to aid in locating the survivor in the event the ship must be abandoned. Many of these lights were worn out by repeated trial to be certain they functioned properly.
On Saturday, 11 November 1944, the Division commemorated Armistice Day. At a formation held on deck all personnel faced East at 1100 for a moment of silent prayer as ships carried them to a new war in Europe where 26 years before the "War to end Wars" had ceased.
A real break in the monotony of the trip occurred about three days out from the coast of Great Britain. A destroyer escort cruising to the left of the convoy picked up suspicious noises and promptly dropped two depth charges. Whether or not an enemy submarine was in the area was never known, but it was comforting to see the Navy go into action to protect the convoy.
No matter how frightening the incident was there was always humor. That night, as was the custom each night, certain staff officers met in the darkest recesses of the hold of the "Samaria" to improve their poker playing. Eight men would crowd into a space large enough to hold three. A crate standing on end provided a 12-inch tabletop. A group of soldiers led by Sgt. Adolph Bartke guarded the door outside of this room, by using the steel door for a backboard while they participated in a well-known game of chance. As the first depth charge exploded and vibrated the bull of the ship closest to the starboard side and against which a certain Lt. Col. was propped, this Lt. Col. turning white, reached for his tie, carefully put it on and tied it, (if anything happened he was going to be in proper uniform) crawled over everyone's backs at the poker game, plunged through the crowded crap game and went upon deck. He was gone for 15 minutes. No one at the poker game blinked an eye. Suddenly the Colonel returned, climbed back to his former spot, took off his tie and reached for a fifth which appeared on one corner of the crate. He automatically took a deep swallow and then put the bottle down and wiped his lips, during all of which time he had never removed the cork from the bottle. Maj. Burger, the Provost Marshal still can't believe he saw this happen.
When the coast of England was sighted even the mere thought of the proximity of land did much to speed the recovery of unseaworthy troops.
The ships arriving in Southampton Harbor were not unloaded on arrival on 18 November. The members of the Thundering Herd remained on board and had an opportunity to watch the dockworkers unload mail and other equipment throughout the day of the 18th. One of the senior generals of the British Army boarded the Samaria, greeted the men of the 8th over the PA system, and warned them that they had never seen mud until they saw the mud at their new training grounds.
Disembarking at Plymouth and Southampton on 19 November the Herders were welcomed by the Red Cross, again on hand with hot coffee and doughnuts. Unaware that there existed in England a critical cigarette shortage, 8th Armored men freely threw cigarettes to the Englishmen on the docks. After a month in England even the butt of a cigarette was a welcome gift.
The British troop trains which would carry the Division to Tidworth Barracks near Salisbury were standing ready in the train shed on the pier as the men disembarked. These trains were smaller than ones to which the Americans had been accustomed and each coach contained compartments instead of long rows of double seats. The trains moved slowly and several tankers ventured out to view the countryside from the roofs of the cars.
Traveling through the quiet landscape dotted with thatched roofed huts seemed like journeying back into history. Arriving at Tidworth, England, after a two-hour train ride, the Divisional units which were to remain in town marched through a torrential downpour to Tidworth Barracks, which had been designed by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany for the purpose of housing Queen Victoria's troops. Upon arrival most of the Division units received a hot meal which had been prepared by elements of the llth Armored Division.
While a good part of the Division was housed in barracks with such fancy names as "Bhurtpore, Delhi, Jellilibad, etc.," the medics, cavalry, artillery and infantry battalions were billeted in pyramidal tents at Penning's Camp and Windmill Hill. Constructed to billet eight men, the tents lacked floor and doors when the units of the 8th took over, but soon the addition of flooring, doors, and sideboards converted them to semi-permanent billets.
During the stay of the 8th in the Tidworth mud, preparations for a cross-Channel move went forward with heretofore unknown urgency. Drivers and maintenance personnel had the task of bringing the Divisional vehicles from several scattered ports. This non-TAT equipment began arriving in various ports on 2 December 1944. Driving under blackout conditions over unknown, narrow English roads, the drivers did a magnificent job of assembling the vehicles safely. The one mishap of any consequence in this operation took place when the tank of Technical Sergeant James A. McKeen of Company C, 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, spilled into a ditch. Fortunately no one was injured.
Last minute details-lecture on how to act in the event of capture by the enemy, checking the "zero" of weapons, and preparing vehicles for combat-kept the Division busy from morning until night. Staff conferences were held on battalion and Divisional level, and all battalion commanders journeyed to the Continent for battle orientation. Captain Will Burger, Division Provost Marshal, formed an improvised military policy company to augment the regular T/O and E unit. The Division Quartermaster Section was increased to seventy men by transfer of personnel from the battalion sections. Several units acquired vehicles and weapons over the T/O and E allowances. Members of all medical detachments and the 78th Medical Battalion, Armored, had opportunities to work in nearby general hospitals, this training being to familiarize them with the types of injuries they would soon be treating.
The three artillery battalions moved for a brief period to the Royal Artillery Range at Tilshead, England, to test fire their new 105 mm howitzers. The three tank battalions moved to the range to put the new M-4 "Sherman" tanks through their paces.
The Commander of Combat Command A, Colonel Charles F. Colson, received notice of his promotion to Brigadier General (which had actually taken place while the Division was at sea) while the Division was at Tidworth, and the 8th passed in review in his honor on the famous parade ground "Tattoo."
Thanksgiving Day was necessarily observed on Friday instead of the traditional fourth Thursday because the turkeys drawn from Quartermaster Stocks proved over-frozen and did not thaw sufficiently to enable the mess personnel to prepare them for the Thursday meal.
Tidworth pubs provided a place for relaxation after duty hours. The Divisional units held many dances with British ATS and American Red Cross girls attending and helping the Herders enjoy the stay in England. In addition to the Red Cross facilities, the men of the Thundering Herd could stop in at the Red Shield Club room (sponsored by the Salvation Army in England) for tea or a sandwich of the inevitable Spam. Captain Ian MacLachlan, 7th AIB, received permission to visit relatives in Scotland. Service Company, 7th AIB, opened a "nightclub" for the Battalion in Tidworth.
On 16 December 1944, General von Rundstedt started his last ditch offensive. Moving rapidly through the American lines, the Germans drove into Belgium. Bastogne was surrounded and cut off from all support except by air. General George S. Patton, Jr., Commanding General of the Third Army, was ordered to move north to erase the "Bulge" created in the American lines. With this new development at the frontline, men of the 8th knew they would soon move to the Continent.
However, there was ample opportunity to visit the surrounding countryside. Most of the Division had the opportunity to spend 48 hours in London. Billeted at the Red Cross facilities in Albert Gate Mansions, the Herders visited Rainbow Corner, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and many historic spots in the British capitol.
The famous 8th Armored Division boxing team was invited to London to fight the E.T.O. champs at Rainbow Corner, and the Herders won. On Christmas Eve a bit of home was brought to every man in the 8tb and a tear to many an eye as a public address system, high on a hill overlooking Tidworth Barracks, rendered Christmas carols and Christmas songs. Never was Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" so warmly received.
On Christmas Day the 8th played host to a large number of British orphans. Opening his heart to these children, many a soldier found himself minus PX rations, but plus a warm glow in his heart at the close of the day. To provide a Yule touch the Division Band stood in formation playing Christmas tunes as the men filed through the mess line. General Devine visited several of the Divisional units during the day. Previously Christmas cards which could be mailed home had been made available by the Special office. The 398th AFA Battalion even had a Christmas tree. Installed in the mess hall and decorated with aiming post lights by Captain M. Leon, the tree brought nostalgic memories of home to many of the artillery men.
The expected order finally came to the 8th Armored Division on New Year's Day. The urgency of the current situation on the Continent demanded movement. This prevented orderly drawing and issuing of equipment. Much ordnance, signal, and quartermaster equipment was actually issued to the using units after the Division had closed in Pont-a-Mousson. However, this was not nearly as serious as the ammunition shortage. The Division left the UK with 11% of the authorized ammunition. The basic load was picked up by Division G-4, Lieutenant Colonel Harold N. Lang, at the Army Supply Installation at Soissons.
Between 2 and 4 January the advance units with the Divisional equipment cleared the Tidworth area, bound for Le Havre and Rouen. On the short cross-channel journey some of the vehicles of Headquarters Battery broke loose from their moorings and started to shift as the boat lurched. During a lull Lieutenant Robert Kaplan, Battery Motor Officer, aided by his crew secured the loose vehicles to the deck.
On 5 January the remainder of the Division moved through the Red Horse area, Channel Base Section, and thence to the ports of Southampton and Weymouth. The last representatives of the 8th Armored to leave England were the artillery liaison pilots who were escorted across the English Channel by the RAF on 18 January 1945. The last unit to arrive in France was the 148th Signal Company and where it was so long no one knows.
Disembarking at the ruined cities of Le Havre and Rouen, the 8th Armored Division got its first idea of the destruction on the Continent. The Division was grouped into units and moved to the vicinity of Bacqueville, located north of Rouen, France.
During the brief stay in this area many unofficial introductions to various French liquors occurred. Several members of the 49th AIB, including First Sergeant Myron E. Farley, Sergeant Joseph A. Ogden, and Sergeant Owen W. Bebb, missed reveille the morning after a bout with something identified as "Calvados." The evening's entertainment convinced Sergeant Farley that chateaux could truly be haunted.
The Division was first assigned to the newly formed, then still secret, 15th Army and placed in Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force reserve. The 8th was ordered to move to the vicinity of the cathedral city Rheims, with Division Headquarters to be located at Sept Saulx. After a 174.7 mile trip from Bacqueville to Rheims in a blinding snowstorm, and near zero weather the Division closed at Rheims on 10 January 1945.
Between 8 and 11 January the 467 AAA AW (SP) Battalion and the 3454th (First Lieutenant William E. Henson) and the 3658th (Captain Henry B. Sternfeld) Quartermaster Truck Companies were attached to the Division by the 12th Army Group.
The Division General Staff was augmented by the creation of the G-5 Section on 9 January 1945. To head this section Major Robert C. Polsgrave and Captain James M. Bunting were assigned to the 8th Armored per Paragraph 22, Special Orders Number 3, Headquarters, European Civil Affairs Division, dated 4 January 1945.
While encamped on the snow-covered field outside of Rheims, Division troops saw their first enemy plane. Each evening at dusk this lone enemy reconnaissance plane would fly over the Division bivouac area. This plane was dubbed "Bedcheck Charley." The temperature stayed close to zero during this period. Living conditions were bettered somewhat by a supply of straw and hay the Quartermaster Section "procured."
A movement order from Lieutenant General Leonard T. Gerow, Commanding General, 15th Army, dated 11 January 1945, relieved the 8th Armored Division from attachment to the 15th Army and attached it for administration and supply to the 3rd Army under General George A. Patton. Still in SHAEF Reserve, the Division was directed to move on 12 January 1945 to the vicinity of Pont-a-Mousson, France, in anticipation of a large-scale German counterattack aimed at Metz seemingly brewing in the Saareguemines area.
The German drive for the city of Strasbourg brought a hurried call for armor. The 8th, designated to answer this call, moved across France to Pont-a-Mousson in the midst of a blinding snowstorm. However the enemy been halted before the 8th could be committed to action.
The 105-mile move from Rheims to Pont-a-Mousson was a nightmare for Division drivers. Fresh roads, poor even when in good repair in the summer, had become rutted and covered with ice and snow. Tanks and half-tracks kept sliding from the icy roads into ditches. One fantastic incident occurring on the trip was the wild ride of the crew of an M-7 (Self-Propelled 105 mm Artillery piece) of the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. The "Priest" slid on the ice and sped down the side a hill. On the descent the gunner kept raising and lowering the barrel of his piece to avoid hitting trees. The entire trip was a strenuous one, and it was only with the greatest determination and skill that the drivers were able to bring their vehicles safely to the new assembly area. It was that you could trace the march of the tanks of the 8th across France by checking the skinned trees along the roadside, which in many cases kept the vehicles from falling off the road.
As the Division closed at Pont-a-Mousson the 148th Signal Company finally rejoined the command. This Company had been stranded in the English Channel on the SS Thomas Wolf which was not able to make port unload until 11 January 1945.
The 8th Armored was directed to, take necessary security measures to cover the presence of the unit in the 3rd Army area. The assigned code "Tornado" became effective on 13 January 1945, and 3rd Army directed that vehicle markings would be covered up or painted out and patches would be removed.
During the first part of the period at Pont-a-Mousson the Division was ordered to reconnoiter the best routes for potential commitment to combat with the 3rd Army. This reconnaissance mission was carried out by detachments from the 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion. In addition to this task, the Division was told to be prepared for a mission either in the 12th Army Group or the Sixth Army Group.
On 17 January 1945, the Division was assigned to XX Corps, 3rd Army, which was then commanded by Major General Walton Walker. The mission of route reconnaissance was to continue, and the Division was to snow-camouflage all vehicles and engage in training. In the Division area clearing of mines and removal of dead, both American and German, occupied much time.
T/5 Eldon R. Auxter, Headquarters Company, 36th Tank Battalion, was injured by a mine explosion. Auxter, who was Major John H. VanHouten's (CO, 36th Tank) driver, received the unwelcome distinction of being the Thundering Herd's first casualty as the result of enemy action. Troop F, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mech.), suffered 13 casualties when an explosion occurred while the unit was disarming mines and booby-traps. Second Lieutenant Homer B. Young and 10 others were killed outright; two others were fatally injured.
During January the Division conducted valuable combat training using the abandoned forts of the French Maginot Line and destroyed French villages as training areas.
At this time Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, was giving approval to a 3rd Army order which would implement the actual combat training of the Division pending complete committal as a unit. On 18 January, Brigadier General Devine met with Major General Ray E. Porter, Deputy Commanding General of the 15th Army, and Brigadier General William A. Collier, Chief of Staff of XX Corps, and plans for battle indoctrination of the 8th were outlined.
Confirmation of these plans followed in a message to General Devine from the Commanding General of 15th Army:
"Reference is made to paragraphs 1 and 2, Letter of Instructions Number 8, this Headquarters, dated 10 January 1945.
"SHAEF has approved employment of elms of 8 Armored Division for combat training by Third Army in support of operations of 94th Division subject to following restrictions.
(a) Not more than 1 normal combat command to be employed at a time.
(b) Combat employment of each CC to be limited to 2 days at a time.
(c) CC's to be employed only after previous CC has closed in 8th Armored Division area. Only one CC may be away from Division area at any time.
"Units of your command subject to restrictions as listed above will be attached to Third U.S. Army for training as indicated above. Direct Liaison with units of Third U.S. Army in accordance with the instructions of CG Third U.S. Army is authorized."
The 94th Infantry Division, commanded by Major General Harry Malony, was engaged with the enemy in the vital Saar-Moselle Triangle. The fortifications of this area consisted of many pillboxes, gun emplacements and tank traps to protect German communications in the vital Siegfried "Switch" Position. This "Switch line" had been built to a depth of two kilometers with pillboxes, dragon's teeth, and anti-tank obstacles guarding the rugged terrain.
Upon receipt of final instructions from Major General Walton Walker, of XX Corps, General Devine met with his staff and combat commanders to select the units which would comprise the combat command scheduled to participate in the first battle indoctrination phase. A balanced unit of infantry, armor, and artillery, together with the normal supporting attachments, was placed under command of Brigadier General Charles F. Colson, Commanding General of Combat Command A. Units selected to comprise CCA were:
Headquarters Company, Combat Command A
7th Armored Infantry Battalion
18th Tank Battalion
398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion
Battery D, 467th AAA AW (SP) Battalion
Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron
Company A, 78th Medical Battalion, Armored
Company A, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion
Company A, 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion.
General Colson ordered his unit to move at once to the vicinity of Sierck-Apach-Manderen-Evendorff-Doenigsmacker. The unit closed in the area by evening of 19 January.
Combat Command A was to assist the 94th Infantry Division in carrying out its mission of reduction of the German Salient between the Saar and Moselle Rivers. This salient was located in the Siegfried Switch Position. The plan of attack envisaged by the Commanding General of the 94th Infantry Division included an envelopment by CCA armor from Berg to Sinz within the defenses of the Siegfried Line. The infantry units of the combat command were to make a frontal assault on the town of Sinz and seize the town and the high ground to the northwest. To insure the passage of the armored elements of CCA, the 302nd Infantry Regiment of the 94th Infantry Division was to seize and hold the towns of Nennig and Berg.
The defenders of the towns of Nennig and Berg were elements of the 110th and 111th Panzer Grenadier Regiment supported by the 774th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. These units were part of the 11th Panzer Division. (The 11th Panzer Division was composed of these two Panzer Grenadier Regiments, a tank regiment, a Panzer Artillery Regiment, and five battalions of supporting troops. In all the Division numbered approximately 14,000 men.)
General Colson, discovering that the terrain was not suited for an armored envelopment, divided CCA into two task forces. Task Force Goodrich, under command of Lieutenant Colonel. Guinn B. Goodrich, CO of the 18th Tank Battalion, included the 18th Tank Battalion less Company C, Company C of the 7th AIB, and a detachment from Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. However, Company C of the 7th AIB was not to be released to Task Force Goodrich until after the towns of Nennig and Berg had been secured. The second task force, designated Task Force Poinier, under command of Lieutenant Colonel Arthur D. Poinier, CO of the 7th AIB, was composed of the 7th AIB, Company C of the 18th Tank Battalion, and a detachment from Troop A of the 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. From the remaining elements of the combat command General Colson constituted his reserve.
Task Force Poinier was attached to the 302nd Infantry Regiment of the 94th Infantry Division on 21 January 1945. On the morning of 22 January, Company A of the 7th AIB and Company K of the 302nd Infantry Regiment launched an attack on the town of Nennig. Bitter cold stung the faces of the men as their half-tracks and other vehicles crunched over icy roads toward Berg at 0400 in the morning.
Commanded by Captain Joseph Finley and supported by the Assault Gun Platoon of Headquarters Company of the 7th AIB (led by Lieutenant Anton Foy), Company A, 7th AIB, was the first unit of the 8th Armored Division to make contact with the enemy. During the day Lieutenant Foy led his assault guns into the town three times before they could find suitable positions from which to support Company A's attack.
The main street of Nennig was turned into a fire-swept lane by early morning of the 22nd. Fierce house-to-house fighting characterized the first day of battle. By 1200 hours Technical Sergeant William E. Crocker's platoon had gained a toe-hold in the town proper and A Company men held precariously to five houses.
By nightfall the southern half of Nennig was completely cleared of enemy resistance and Company A was holding a line which ran from the center of town to the high ground to the east of town. In this successful advance Company A captured 7 machine guns, including one which had been lost by Company M, 376th Infantry Regiment, earlier in the Nennig fight.
During the night a fierce counterattack by enemy elements of the 110th Panzer-Grenadier Regiment and the newly arrived 774th Panzer-Grenadier Regiment of the 11th Panzer Division drove Company A from its newly-won position and recaptured the church which was the key point in the German defense of the town.
Staff Sergeant William H. Weand's platoon was outposting the high ground west of Nennig when this German counterattack began. As the white-cloaked enemy infantrymen tried to infiltrate through the lines and attack the flank, Sergeant Weand voluntarily braved small arms and mortar to warn his platoon of the impending attack.
Prior to this time the town of Nennig had been captured and lost three times by elements of the 302nd Infantry Regiment. The town church steeple, which provided an excellent OP, was the primary objective in each of the German counterattacks. A patrol from Company A, 7th AIB, spent the night of 22 January behind the altar of the church after a Mark IV tank blocked its escape route by taking up a defensive position at the front door.
Bitter house-to-house fighting continued throughout the day of the 23rd, with Company A slugging forward. The appearance of additional enemy armor made continuation of the attack even more difficult. Staff Sergeant W. Potticary's squad of Company A was almost completely wiped out when a Mark IV tank fired through a window into the room where they had halted to regroup. Fighting through an almost blinding snowstorm and bitter cold, Company A and elements of the 302nd Infantry Regiment cleared the town of enemy by 1030 on the morning of 24 January.
During the night of the 24th Company A of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion and First Lieutenant James P. A. Carr's platoon from Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, moved out of Nennig to establish a "minimum of three breaches in the formidable anti-tank obstacles protecting the Schloss-Berg," key strongpoint in the enemy defense of the town of Berg, which lay to the northeast of Nennig. The Schloss was protected by an anti-tank ditch and three mine fields. These obstacles had to be breached to facilitate the attack of the 2nd Battalion of the 376th Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division, which was to jump off at 0300 on the morning of the 25th.
The night was not pleasant for CCA. New and terrifying were the "Screaming Meamies," or Nebewurffers. Any noise of tank movement was sure to bring a hail of artillery and mortar fire. It seemed that the Germans had forward observers right in the Battalion perimeter.
At noon on the 24th, General Devine, Colonel Charles G. Dodge, Division Chief of Staff, and other staff officers met in the vicinity of Wochern for a reconnaissance preparatory to launching the attack toward Sinz as had been originally intended. However, during the night of the 24th Brigadier General Henry B. Cheadle, Assistant Division Commander of the 94th Infantry, informed General Colson that the 2nd Battalion of the 376th Infantry Regiment would not be able to launch the scheduled attack on Berg at 0300 the morning of the 25th. General Colson decided to launch an immediate attack on Berg with Task Force Poinier, and this unit was released from attachment to the 302nd Infantry Regiment for this purpose. Task Force Goodrich remained astride the main road south of Nennig with orders to assist the attack and to take advantage of any opportunity to break out and continue the attack toward Sinz.
Task Force Poinier crossed the line of departure at 0600 with Companies A and B forward and Company C in reserve. Passing through elements of the 302nd Infantry Regiment, the attacking force had to move across fire-swept open ground. The anti-tank ditch which had been breached the previous night by Company A of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, under command of Captain James J. Gettings, Jr., afforded some meager cover from the rain of mortar and artillery fire pouring over the advancing members of the 7th AIB. Outlined in the snow by their OD overcoats, the attackers proved excellent targets for enemy sniper and mortar fire. Fighting became more intense and the 7th AIB suffered heavy casualties as the Germans took advantage of their entrenched positions and unobstructed observation of the battlefield.
Supported by Company C, 18th Tank, the infantry elements of Task Force Poinier fought forward. Captain Anthony H. Maidment, S-3, 18th Tank, was killed when the tank from which he was directing the armor forward was hit by a Panzerfaust. Captain Maidment had taken command of the Company after the Company Commander and Second Platoon leader, to Lieutenant Claude D. Blevins, had been wounded.
Company C, 7th AIB, passed through Company A at approximately 1000 and Company A reverted to Task Force Reserve. In this initial action a bazooka team of Company C, 7th AIB, composed of Private First Class Joseph L. Bisch and Private First Class Wilfred L. Murray, Jr., crawled behind the enemy lines, dodging constant sniper fire, to approach an enemy pillbox which had been holding up their platoon's advance. Unable to open their ammunition box with cold-numbed fingers, they ripped off the cover with their teeth. Steadying their bazooka long enough to take careful aim, they fired and knocked out the pillbox. Fifteen prisoners were captured the Platoon continued the attack.
When Lieutenant Colonel Poinier, the Task Force Commander, was seriously wounded by a mortar shell while directing the attack from his forward observation post, command of the Force was assumed by Major Richard Moushegian, Executive Officer of the 7th AIB. He also was wounded shortly thereafter, and, since the S-3, Major Clarence B. Wolfe, had previously been evacuated, Captain Harry Craddock, Battalion S-2, took command.
Colonel Poinier wounded and lying unable to move in an exposed forward position, was shielded against further injury by the actions of Lieutenant Mike P. Cokinos, Forward Observer from the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. Lieutenant Cokinos administered first aid to the wounded Task Force Commander, covered the Colonel's body with his own, and removed his own steel helmet in order to protect Colonel Poinier's face until an evacuation team arrived.
General Colson became "Private Colson" when an artillery fragment clipped the star from his steel helmet. General Devine, a true front-line commander, did more to alarm one member of the 7th AIB than did the Germans. "Did you think the front lines would be like this?" asked a voice. The infantryman turned with a "what-a-damn-fool-question" look on his face to stare into the eyes of a small, smiling brigadier general. The infantryman gulped a quick, "No, Sir," whereupon General Devine replied, "That's what I thought you'd say."
Lieutenant Jerome G. Simon's mortar platoon of Headquarters Company, 7tb AIB, was badly crippled during the morning of the 25th when an enemy shell landed on a stack of enemy mines which had previously been removed and placed along side the road. T/5 Raymond Chubb, half-track driver, was killed and all the section leaders were wounded seriously enough to require evacuation.
In the same action Company C, 7th AIB, which had one platoon occupying reserve position near the mortar platoon, lost two half-tracks and suffered twenty-four casualties, including the Company commander, Captain George L. Papineau.
Company B moved through the outskirts of Berg, bypassed the enemy strongpoint in Schloss-Berg, and halted to reorganize before the final assault on the Company objective, the high ground northeast of the town. The Company, supported by 3rd Platoon, Company C, 18th, and two tanks of 2nd Platoon, reached the objective at approximately 1400 in the afternoon. Captain Grover B. Herman, commanding officer, was killed as he was leading the final assault. With his death command of Company B devolved upon Second Lieutenant Arthur J. Fisher, the only officer remaining in the company.
All three line companies of the Battalion had suffered heavy casualties in officers and men. Leadership training which had been given to the noncommissioned officers at Camp Polk proved to be one of the primary factors in successful accomplishment of the Battalion mission. Privates stepped forward to take command of squads and even platoons. Sergeants took the positions of leadership left vacant when wounded officers were evacuated.
As he pinned the gold bars of a second lieutenant on Technical Sergeant Henry B. Schmidt, Company C, General Devine said, "A man is a leader if he has the guts to step out in front when the going is the hardest." Lieutenant Schmidt had done just that when he had taken command of two platoons of C Company, 7th AIB, after both of the platoon leaders had been wounded.
Technical Sergeant John Martinek, Company B, was also commissioned as a second lieutenant after be had successfully led his platoon through intense enemy fire in the attack on Berg.
Another pair of gold bars went to Technical Sergeant Richard W. Peters, Company A, 7th AIB. Peters, despite the fact that he had been wounded on the second day of combat, refused to be evacuated. During the attack on Berg he sustained shrapnel injuries to both legs, but continued to lead his platoon until he finally collapsed.
As the last houses of the town of Berg were being cleared, the leading platoon of Company C was pinned down by sniper and machine gun fire. Private Louis H. Ivey moved his machine gun to a position where he could bring flanking fire on the enemy machine gun and his unit soon continued to move forward.
By 1145 on the 25th the town of Berg had been cleared of all effective enemy resistance except the detachment remaining in the fortified SchlossBerg. No further infantry progress was possible until this enemy strongpoint had been captured. None of the artillery which had been called down on the Schloss had been effective in reducing or neutralizing this virtual fortress. Thus the Third Platoon, Company C, 18th Tank Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Andrew T. Boggs, and the Tank Assault Gun Platoon, commanded by Lieutenant John D. Stinson, were ordered forward to assist the attack by pouring direct fire on the chateau.
After this direct 105 mm assault howitzer fire and a curtain of artillery fire had been laid down by the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, the enemy showed some signs of weakening. The Schloss itself was protected by an anti-tank ditch located about 100 yards to the front. The attacking troops of Company B took cover in this AT ditch. Under fire from four German machine guns, the men in the ditch were trapped. The ice formed in the bottom of the ditch was not thick enough to support the weight of the men who soon became soaked in hip-deep water. Wet clothing began to freeze on the men and the unit had to withdraw before exposure completely disabled all its members. The constant artillery and direct assault howitzer fire continued to pour into Schloss-Berg.
At 1630 Lieutenant Peter F. Godwin's Platoon of Troop A, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, successfully assaulted the Schloss and captured 33 prisoners. The Schloss had fallen! To the members of CCA who had been existing for three days on C-rations so thoroughly frozen that only the biscuits and candy were edible, the luxuries enjoyed by the enemy in the Schloss-food, liquor, and even heated rooms-were beyond belief. Small wonder that the position had been held so determinedly!
The fight for Berg cost the enemy five Mark IV tanks, 72 prisoners, and many dead and wounded; Task Force Poinier had lost three M-4 tanks and four half-tracks and had suffered heavy personnel casualties.
With the capture of Berg, the initial pivotal point in the 94th Infantry plan, the stage was set for the armor envelopment of Sinz that had been included in the original attack order. Preparations were made for the continuation of the attack on the morning of 26 January. There was no time for the units to reorganize and rest. Service troops heroically brought up ammunition and other supplies to the fighting units in forward positions. Staff Sergeant Ralph Carter and his mess crew from Headquarters Company, 7th AIB, brought several GI cans of hot C-rations into Berg for units that had eaten no warm food for four or five days. Service Battery of the 398th Armored Field Artillery Battalion kept ammunition moving forward throughout the day and night of the 25th. On the 25th alone the Battalion had fired a total of 2,030 rounds supporting the attack on Berg.
The superb cooperation of all units of Combat Command A was exemplified by the action of Company A, 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, commanded by First Lieutenant Robert R. Brown. The men stripped their organic vehicles of all .50 caliber machine guns to supply them to the units of the 7th AIB and the 18th Tank Battalion. The Company was from then until the end of the action without any anti-aircraft protection.
The medical detachment of the 7th AIB and Company A of the 78th Medical Battalion, Armored, did a superlative job of treating and evacuating the wounded. The 7th AIB Aid Station was under almost constant mortar and 88 fire. When asked by Lieutenant Colonel Louis F. Saylor. Division Surgeon, why he did not move his aid station out of a building which had been ruined by artillery fire, Lieutenant Sidney Grau, 7th AIB Surgeon, replied that the building had been intact that morning and his detachment had since been too busy to move.
Performing tasks beyond the call of duty in rendering first aid to wounded men of CCA and the 94th Infantry Division, the medics of CCA suffered heavy casualties in their own ranks. T/4 James J. Coady was mortally wounded by enemy fire while treating a wounded infantryman. Placing duty above himself, he used his remaining strength to minister to his fallen comrade. Private James E. Orr received an injury which resulted in traumatic amputation of his left leg. Despite the intense pain of his injury, he continued to render first aid to the wounded until he collapsed. Private Orr died as a result of his wound.
Half-track drivers, jeep drivers, and mechanics volunteered to assist in evacuating the wounded. T/5 Carl Hinton, Service Company, 7th AIB, was awarded the Silver Star after making over fifty trips to evacuate the wounded. The jeep which Hinton drove had all four tires shot from under it. An artillery blast blew T/5 Robert Shapiro, Headquarters Company, 7th AIB, out of his half-track, but he climbed back in and continued to evacuate casualties. Such action by members of CCA whose armored vehicles could afford the wounded some protection from small arms fire and artillery fragments saved the lives of many members of the Combat Command and of the 94th Infantry Division.
The arctic weather conditions bad been more than a discomfort to the fighting troops. Frozen C-rations and numb fingers were insignificant compared with the danger of frostbite and trenchfoot. To compensate for the lack of "shoepacs" combat boots were replaced with four-buckle arctics filled with straw. This expedient minimized weather casualties.
The attack on Sinz, which lay approximately two miles east of Berg, was to jump off on the morning of the 26th. Company A of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, accompanied by the security force from Troop A of the 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, was sent out on the night of the 25th to prepare for the passage of the armored elements of Task Goodrich. There were two known anti-tank ditches on the road from to Sinz. The first of these was a short distance to the east of Berg; the other, approximately 1500 yards in front of the town of Sinz. These anti-tank ditches were reinforced by anti-tank mine fields liberally sprinkled anti-personnel mines and the devastating "Schu" mines. Private First Class Richard Lindholst of Company A, 53rd Engineers, summed up the situation: "I've learned to watch where I step."
The engineers successfully bridged the first ditch and cleared tank paths through the minefields. To place a treadway bridge over the first anti-tank ditch required the construction of abutments on either side of the ditch. The engineer demolition teams had to use TNT to blast holes in the solidly frozen earth for these abutments. Only continuous maintenance could keep the bridge in position once it was built. T/4 Edward P. Sherel, Company A, 53rd Engineer Battalion, was killed during the morning of the 26th as he was attempting to keep the bridge open for traffic.
The attack on Sinz, the Task Force objective, was to be coordinated with an attack by the 2nd Battalion of the 302nd Infantry Regiment. Moving from the southwest Task Force, Goodrich, with the 7th AIB in a column of companies-A, C, B-following the tanks, crossed the line of departure at 0830 on the morning of the 26th, passed through the breaches in the first anti-tank obstacle and reached Phase Line A at 0930. Leading element of Task Force Goodrich, A Company of the 18th Tank Battalion commanded by Captain Odin Brendengen continued the attack toward Sinz and discovered that there was no passage through the second anti-tank obstacle, eight feet wide by eight feet deep, located approximately 1500 yards in front of the town. Increasingly heavy mortar and artillery fire had meanwhile forced the infantry elements to halt and dig in at Phase Line A. This fire forced the 2nd Battalion, 302nd Infantry Regiment, which had effected a junction with TF Goodrich, to halt in approximately the same location.
An armor-supported enemy counterattack was beaten off at 1300, and, under a constant hail of enemy fire, the units of Task Force Goodrich held their position until they were relieved by the reserve company of the 2nd Battalion, 302nd Infantry Regiment, under the cover of darkness at approximately 1700. The 7th AIB was sent into Nennig as Combat Command reserve to permit the companies to rest and resupply.
Once again the engineers were called into action to breach the obstacle barring the way for armor movement into Sinz. Working throughout the night of the 26th, the engineers erected a treadway bridge across the anti-tank ditch.
Again in conjunction with elements of the 302nd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Goodrich moved forward at 0900 on the morning of the 27th with Baker Company, 18th Tank Battalion, Captain Russell D. Miller commanding, deployed along an 800-yard front in the lead. When the leading tanks reached Phase Line B (the large anti-tank ditch about 1500 yards from Sinz) the Company Commander discovered that the gap in the anti-tank defense which the engineers had made the previous night was under accurate observation by an enemy anti-tank gun. Attempting to find another crossing not within the observation of the enemy anti-tank gun, B Company flushed from the woods to the left of the Berg-Sinz main road a nest of enemy armor consisting of about 15 Mark IV tanks.
As no enemy armor of any quantity bad been reported in this area, the appearance of the German tanks came as a surprise to the tankers of B Company. But here was a tank vs. tank battle, the sort of situation that tankers live for! Baker Company men proved themselves to be accurate with the 76 mm tank gun. Lieutenant Robert Cox, his own tank disabled by a mine, used his vehicle as a stationary pillbox to knock out two enemy tanks and a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. In all B Company marksmen bagged four Mark IV tanks, the anti-aircraft gun, and the anti-tank weapon which had been guarding the gap in the tank obstacle.
By 1300 the ammunition supply and fuel in the B Company tanks were running dangerously low. Captain Miller informed Colonel Goodrich of this situation and the Task Force Commander ordered Able Company to pass through B Company and continue the attack. Company A soon reached the ridgeline overlooking Sinz and began to pour fire into the town.
From their position on the ridge the tankers of Company A were able to support by fire initially and later to coordinate forward movement with elements of the 1st Battalion, 302nd Infantry. As Task Force Goodrich continued to attack they were joined on the road by the leading elements of the 1st Battalion of the 302nd Infantry which had attacked from the woods southwest of Tettingen. The well-prepared and heavily defended fortifications surrounding Sinz were to take a heavy toll in personnel and material from Task Force Goodrich. As the leading tank of Able Company entered the town at 1600 it was hit by deadly Panzerfaust fire which knocked the tank out of action. With the column momentarily halted, the Germans zeroed in on the second tank in the column and knocked it out with direct fire from an 88 mm. The fighting that ensued was bloody, bitter, and intense. With the Task Force occupying only three houses in the town, the 18th Tank Battalion Medical Detachment, under command of Lieutenant Nathan Jaret, evacuated more than twenty-five wounded. T/5 Vincent A. Troiana, an A Company tank driver, evacuated a wounded member of his tank crew and carried him to safety under intense artillery fire.
The tankers battled with the enemy in the outskirts of Sinz during the afternoon of the 27th. With ammunition running low in the tanks of A Company, Lieutenant Colonel Goodrich sent D Company, commanded by Captain Paul R. Halderson, to move through A Company and continue the attack into the center of the town.
First Lieutenant James P. Bolinger's leading tank of D Company was fired upon as the Company took up the advance, but continued to move forward to score a hit on a Mark IV, causing it to burst into flame. A German Panzerfaust team finally knocked out this M-24 after scoring a hit on its rear deck. Lieutenant Bolinger then dismounted, climbed on the second tank, and continued to lead his platoon.
The firefight continued with the American tank-infantry teams moving forward inch by inch into the heart of the crumbling city. Eventually smoke and approaching darkness so greatly reduced the field of vision that the armored units were not able to continue the advance.
The tally for this attack on Sinz shows that the 18th Tank Battalion had six tanks totally destroyed and four disabled. However, these latter were evacuated to the 130th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion, repaired, and returned to the Battalion. The German defenders of Sinz had lost eight tanks, one anti-aircraft gun, one anti-tank gun, and an armored personnel carrier. As a result of the week's action the 110th and 111th Panzer Grenadier Regiments lost fifty percent of the personnel they had brought into the Saar-Moselle Triangle.
To protect the evacuation of the 18th Tank Battalion from Sinz, the 7th AIB, which was now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. P. Mossman, was ordered from reserve in Nennig. During the night of the 27th the 7th AIB occupied the high ground to the northwest of Sinz and sent patrols into the town. Plans were made at that time to attack in conjunction with the 302nd Infantry Regiment the following morning, but this attack never materialized. Orders received from XX Corps shortly after midnight relieved the Combat Command from attachment to the 94th Infantry Division. Combat Command A was to revert to 8th Armored Division control, effective immediately, and all its units were to withdraw once again into Nennig.
However, the men of Task Force Goodrich had not yet completed the evacuation of the tank elements that had been disabled in Sinz. Company B of the 7th AIB was ordered to remain in position as a covering force and to join the Battalion the next day. The projected attack of the 302nd Infantry Regiment was interrupted by an enemy counterattack in the early hours of the morning of the 28th. Company B of the 7th AIB, in a defensive position, played a key role in halting this counterattack, which lasted until 1030 of the 28th. B Company, in the midst of a fierce firefight, was not able to disengage and rejoin the 7th AIB until late in the afternoon of the 28th.
As the men of Combat Command A left the area of their first engagement with the enemy they knew that they had been up against some of the best of the Wehrmact troops on the Siegfried Line. Instead of the originally scheduled forty-eight hour battle indoctrination period, CCA had spent seven of the most trying days it was to witness in combat. It had suffered heavy casualties, the majority of which were members of the 7th AIB. The final count showed 23 killed in action and 268 wounded. No one could deny that the unit had been truly combat indoctrinated. Its part in the important operation of the closing of the Saar-Moselle Triangle won high praise from Major General Walton Walker, the XX Corps Commanding General, from Major General Harry Malony, Commanding General of the 94th Infantry Division, and from the Division and Combat Command commanders.
General Devine, commending the men of Combat Command A for their conduct of the attack, wrote: "Never have soldiers behaved better in their first contact with enemy troops than did those of Combat Command A during their attack on the Siegfried Line Switch Position."
General Colson, the Commanding General of Combat Command A, added his personal commendation which read in part:
"In such circumstances it is usually the practice to start new units off against light enemy resistance; instead the units of this command at the outset met with severe determined resistance from a strong enemy force located in well fortified positions. Instead of the expected open ground fighting normal to armored divisions, we were called upon to fight in villages, one of which included a heavily fortified Schloss or castle, all completely surrounded by a tank ditch; over which crossings had to be constructed before the tanks could be used effectively. Using the simple tank tactics of village fighting taught during training periods at Camp Polk, the infantry capably supported by tanks, tank destroyers, and the artillery, with superb courage and the finest leadership of its officers and non-commissioned officers captured Nennig and the town of Berg and the Schloss. All who participated in this action know how hard it was, the extreme cold weather and snow storms through which we fought, and the losses of many of our officers and men. In spite of these adverse conditions the courage and fighting qualities of the men of the combat command stood forth as outstanding factors in the successful climax of their first action against the enemy. For this they should be justly proud."
By nightfall of the 28th all elements of the Combat Command had cleared Nennig. Moving by Company increments the Combat Command rejoined the 8th Armored Division in the vicinity of Pont-a-Mousson and the units returned to their original bivouac areas.
The Division Band was on hand to meet the units returning from the battle area, although the weather was so cold that mouthpieces of the instruments stuck to the players' lips. Kitchen crews had been alerted and had prepared a hot meal for the survivors of the Nennig-Berg-Sinz engagement.