134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
By Major General Butler B. Miltonberger, Former Commanding Officer, 134th Infantry Regiment
and Major James A. Huston, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine, Illinois
When you know Lorraine it seems fitting that it should have given Joan of Arc to France. Today you may still see such peasant girls as she was, straight as young birch trees.
. . . . The villages have changed little since she tended her flocks and the character of the people is much the same as when she went forth from shepherding her flocks to lead an army. From high ground clusters of red roofs break into view on the rich river bottoms and in valleys mottled with woodlands and pastures, but proximity removes some of the charm and picturesqueness as you enter narrow streets where manure is piled in front of the house door.
- Frederick Palmer, American in France, (1918)
The terrain was nowhere kind to a campaign out of season.
- R. C. K. Ensor, A Miniature History of the War, (1945)
Dec. 12 Third Army troops cross the Blies River into Germany and took Habkirchen, four miles northeast of Sarreguemines.
- The World Almanac, 1945, p. 104.
The attack of the 35th Division on 8 November, 1944, was a part of the resumption of the general offensive by the whole Third Army. Initially it was the 137th and the 320th in the assault, but there were no illusions in the 134th Infantry concerning any long duration of its status in reserve. Indeed commitment of this Regiment in the attack came the very next day. After an alert for movement at 0900, the order for the attack came within the next hour. With the 3rd Battalion attacking on the right, and the 2nd on the left (the 1st remaining in reserve), the objective was Coutures and the high ground to the north of that village.
Jumping off from Chambrey and the Bois de Chambrey with heave machine gun support, the 3rd Battalion moved northeast across the open valley and into the Bois de la Marchande with no active opposition, though it did find it necessary to proceed with utmost caution through treacherous mines one man of Company I was killed when he stepped on a mine. The 2nd Battalion likewise was able to move east from its area in the northeast corner of the Foret de Gremecey without active opposition. There was some hostile fire against the 2nd Battalion late in the afternoon, but both battalions reached their objectives before nightfall.
Only mines blocked the way as the 2nd Battalion, with the 3rd following now, continued to the northeast the next day (10 November), through Amelecourt and to a position midway between Amelecourt and Gerbecourt. Now the pattern changed somewhat as the whole column including the 3rd Battalion which was following on the wooded ridgeline near the edge of the Foret de Chateau Salins came under artillery fire. A small arms fire fight soon developed along the 2nd Battalions front. It was of sufficient magnitude to warrant the commitment of the 3rd Battalion on the left at 1530, and at 1800 the two battalions, after an advance of 700 yards, were consolidating their positions for the night.
There was the breath of winter in the cold, damp air that afternoon, and buildings began to become more and more of a premium as adjutants sought shelter for their command posts. Announcement that a desirable town had been cleared had the effect of a break in the dam before a swollen river. Immediately a stream of vehicles mostly jeeps would start pouring down the road, and, in such a situation as this when there was but a single town in the immediate regimental zone, the three battalion adjutants Captains Donald Krebsbach of the 1st Battalion, Amato Pescosolido of the 2nd, and O. H. Bruce of the 3rd would hurry in to stake their claims. But this time Captain Abbott of Regimental Headquarters was there too, and that evening the town of Amelecourt found itself burdened with all three battalion C.P.s plus the regimental C.P.! They were dispersed within the town as well as could be, but there was a rather attractive concentration of vehicles and installations here, and it came under heavy German shelling that afternoon and night. Fortunately, damage was light.
Armistice Day found the 35th Division fighting in Lorraine not far from where it had been on 11 November, 1918, but there was little thought of terminating hostilities now as the men of the 134th Infantry moved forward to renew them. The assault battalions continued to the northeast, the 2nd meeting the responsibility of clearing the towns in the valley while the 3rd concentrated its attention on the ridge to the left. It took only an hour for the former to get into Gorbecourt, but soon thereafter both battalions slowed in the face of enemy resistance. That resistance included some tanks in the zone of the 3rd Battalion. Though American doctrine had taught that tanks are not defensive weapons, a doughboy usually considered them rather formidable obstacles whenever he found himself confronted with one. There really was little that he could do about it, unless he could get within close range. Neither could he depend upon supporting weapons: tank destroyers, with their light armor, could be used only on the defensive or in covered positions; Sherman tanks, with only a 75mm gun, were not supposed to be used to fight tanks; artillery usually was ineffective, unless a chance direct hit could be obtained with a large caliber gun; therefore, it was for the doughboy, armored with an O.D. shirt, and armed with rifle, rockets, and grenades, to attack defending tanks. This is precisely what Lieutenant Bartholomew J. Hanusovsky of Connecticut, and his platoon of Company I proceeded to do. They stalked an enemy tank until the platoon leader was within 10 yards, and then he hurled a grenade into the open turret. This touched off an explosion which demolished the German tank, but, in doing so, it eliminated from action almost the whole platoon; Lieutenant Hanusovsky was killed, and so was Sergeant Laurie J. Griffin of North Carolina; and Staff Sergeant Albert M. Antone of Michigan, and Sergeant William L. Zais of West Virginia, were severely injured.
Though the hour was growing late, and darkness was approaching, it seemed important then to exploit the advantage which had been gained, and the 3rd Battalion was ordered to renew its attack to capture the dominating hill in its zone. It was not an easy task, but Company I whose commander had been wounded again and Company K drove for the hill in the complete darkness which had overtaken them. Rifle shots as signals and directions by radio were necessary to get them together and to bring Company L and a machine gun platoon up with the supplies that task of getting radio batteries, and dry socks, and rations, and water, and ammunition to the companies over narrow, muddy trails through woods and up hills in a blackness whose completeness was unchallenged, required most of the night.
Yet, there was evidence that the added effort had paid dividends, for when the battalion jumped off the next morning (12 November), they discovered scores of German dead and all kinds of enemy equipment (and the enemy always was particular about picking up his dead when it was possible). And there were no other Germans there to man the defenses, and once more the battalions marched forward without opposition.
Now, for the first time since the jump off from the Gremecey Forest and since Major Craig had assumed command, the 1st Battalion entered the attack. At 1100 it followed a heavy artillery preparation into Vaxy, just to the right of the 2nd Battalion, and about a kilometer to the northeast of Gerbecourt. The 2nd Battalion was through Vannecourt before noon, and the 3rd, keeping abreast on the left, broke out of the northeast tip of the Foret de Chateau Salins. The 3rd, spreading out to an open formation, continued to move along the ridge as the 2nd Battalion pushed through Dalhain, and, at 1700, occupied Bellange. It was an advance of five miles for the day, and, up to this point, the only signs of the enemy had been signs of his withdrawal. At days end, however, those signs gave way to indications of an active defense as heavy shells began to fall on the positions of the troops and in the towns of Vannecourt, where the Regimental C.P. was located, and in Dalhain, where the battalions had their command posts.
November 13 was a day to be remembered in the 3rd Battalion as "Blue Monday" on Red Hill; in the 2nd Battalion it would never be forgotten for one of the greatest battles in that units operations Achain; and the 1st Battalion found it memorable for its difficult attack against Pevange.
Cold, damp weather had prevailed almost continuously since the opening of the offensive, but there was an even more noticeable chill in the wind this evening, and infantrymen sought protection, not only from the enemys fire, but from the weathers blast as well. The seasons first snow blanketed the whole landscape in its full whiteness as a gray dawn broke and men of the 134th prepared to move toward objectives which loomed more formidable than any they had encountered all week.
Rougemont, or Red Hill, was a high, dominating terrain feature whose capture seemed to be the key to the whole situation. There was some brush on its slopes, but the top largely was bald. One platoon of Company L had taken a forward position on a small hill which rose on the left as part of the same ridgeline of which the big hill was also a part. That platoons diversionary fire apparently directed German attention in that direction while the remainder of Company L and Company K moved forward over what should have been the more difficult approach down across an intervening, open valley, and then up. But leading riflemen were on the hill half an hour after the jump off. As they did so, however, intense mortar and small arms fire descended upon the battalion. Mortar shells left their dingy marks on the contrasting white snow, and they formed a pattern to show the effectiveness of the barrage. Casualties began to mount. They mounted higher as the companies paused on the hill to await further orders; the commanders knew that they were to follow the easterly change in direction of the ridgeline, but now there was some word that the 4th Armored Division, which had been operating in the divisions zone of action, might send a unit across the front of the 3rd Battalion and into Achain. Actually, armored units did appear on the highway which ran along the ridge on the 3rd Battalions left, but there they waited. Captain Greenlief was meeting with his platoon leaders of L Company to point out directions for continuation of the attack when a shell burst near the group and scattered to hit every member. Greenlief refused evacuation, but the others had to give up; platoon sergeants took command of their platoons, and men of Company L renewed their vicious assaults. Some four machine guns had been concentrating on the 3rd Platoon, and, in doing so, had killed one of the automatic riflemen; Staff Sergeant Eddy Teply of Nebraska, the platoon guide, picked up the B.A.R., and fired it as he rushed toward the source of the heavy fire. He was wounded as he approached, but he was to put two of the guns out of action. When enemy shells caught members of L Companys mortar section, two one-man squads appeared Privates First Class Wayne Fleener of Indiana, and William O. Halfner of New York each carried his squads mortar and base plate forward, set it up, and resumed firing.
Men were falling in the snow, and blood from their wounds was turning Rougemont truly into a red hill. After the initial rapid movement the situation had grown more difficult, and fighting continued the rest of the morning with little advance to show for it. Lt. Col. Warren C. Wood had been following closely behind Company L, and now, with members of his command group, he hurried forward to see what could be done toward getting the advance underway again. But as he walked over the snow-covered hill a shell from an enemy tank gun burst in the group. Colonel Wood was wounded very painfully; Captain Ruby, the heavy weapons commander, was wounded, and Sergeant Robert J. Field, his radio operator, was killed; Captain Jack Hunt, the artillery liaison officer was wounded. For the third time the 3rd Battalions command group had been hit; for the third time it had lost its commander and the artillery liaison officer and some of their assistants. Major Harlan B. Heffelfinger, executive officer, immediately left the battalion C.P. to take command of the 3rd Battalion on Rougemont. Actually the enemy resistance had just about been broken in the 3rd Battalions zone, and Major Heffelfinger directed its advance to a position a thousand yards beyond an orchard northeast of Achain.
At 0930 the 1st Battalion had been altered to prepare to attack in the right of the regimental zone. An hour later that battalion, with tanks of the 737th Tank Battalion, attacked with Pevange, a village about 8,000 yards northeast of its assembly position at Vannecourt, as the objective. Division had reported that Haboudange, a town near the right boundary of the regimental zone midway between Vannecourt and Pevange was "occupied by friendly troops." This report was discounted with some emphasis, however, as the 1st Battalion came under fire from that very place on attempting to by-pass it to go directly toward the main objective. But this enemy position on the right flank had to be eliminated before the attack could proceed. That accomplished with 50 prisoners taken the 1st Battalion moved on to Pevange, and, after another brisk fire fight, could announce that town cleared before 1400. Then while C Company secured the town, B Company moved out to secure the ground to the northeast and A Company occupied Hill 260 on the left. Even then the battalion pushed on the Hill 273 before calling it a day.
Meanwhile, Major Roeckers 2nd Battalion, attacking through the valley toward Achain, had been having reassuring successes at first. Indeed, it appeared to the 2nd Battalion commander that Achain had about been taken by shortly after noon. Then, however, resistance suddenly stiffened, and it began to appear that the enemy intended to hold to Achain at all costs. The companies deployed to approach the town on a broad front and envelop the flanks. Machine gun fire halted much of Company E, but men like Privates Clyde Smith of West Virginia, and William J. Mohr of New Jersey, who moved out ahead of their platoons to throw grenades which destroyed a machine gun and its crew, fought back with determination, and the company closed in. Company F was advancing through an orchard near Achain. Lieutenant Frank D. Derouin of Louisiana, leader of one of the leading platoons, was wounded by rifle fire, but he kept going, and, more than that, he kept his platoon going. But the firing continued, and he was hit twice more. This time, he fell mortally wounded, but, with his last breaths, he was calling to the platoon to keep moving.
Abreast of Company F on the outskirts of Achain was Company G, and that company was finding the fighting as difficult as were the others. Again German defenders had established themselves in an orchard, and their intense and accurate small arms fire was a definite deterrence for men trying to reach the town. At this point Pfc. J. B. Isbell of Tennessee, already holder of the Silver Star, entered the picture. He entered the orchard alone, and immediately obtained such a fire superiority that three Germans were killed and he emerged with seven prisoners. Staff Sergeant Junior J. Spurrier of West Virginia, meanwhile, appeared to be growing impatient with the whole thing. Nominally assigned to the command of the squad, Spurrier agreed with Caesar that it was easier to do it himself than to keep track of a whole squad. Now the 2nd Battalion had been attacking from the south toward Achain, and Company G, on the right, was moving around to come into the town from the east. Spurrier, however, left to his own devices (he already had earned the appellation "Task Force Spurrier" for his action in the attacks east of Nancy), elected to confound the enemy with a simultaneous entry from the west. He descended upon an enemy outpost with overwhelming suddenness, and two of his adversaries fell before the fire from his Garand rifle while the other fled. Much to his satisfaction, he found the streets alive with Germans. Now he pressed into service other weapons, from his own collection, from wounded enemy, or fallen comrades. A Browning automatic rifle was his principal weapon for the attack against the first strong point; his effective fire killed three more Germans here. Then he completed that particular phase by picking up a bazooka and firing rockets into the house to set it on fire. This brought out a captain, who was the garrison commander, a lieutenant, and 14 enlisted men. By this time other men of Company G were fighting their way through the streets, and Spurrier marched his prisoners down to turn them over to the company, and then he returned to his own sector to resume his house-cleaning activities. Another burst from his automatic rifle brought down another pair of Germans, but then he found himself under fire from a group of Germans in another building and he was out of ammunition. Fortunately, the Germans themselves had provided for this shortage, for Spurriers eyes fell on a good German grenade in the street. He picked it up and threw it into the window of the house to kill four more Germans and eliminate that particular danger spot. By this time two-thirds of the town was in the hands of the 2nd Battalion, but darkness came and the strenuous fighting continued through most of the night. Defense was organized to hold the part already taken, and Sergeant Spurrier had charge of one of the outposts. Making the rounds of the positions, he heard Germans talking in a barn. He stole up and set fire to some hay and oil at one corner of the barn. The occupants came out with their hands up, and Sergeant Spurrier marched another group of prisoners back to the command post. When he returned to the outpost he saw a figure crawling toward a sentry; there was no answer to his challenge, and another accurate shot ended the career of another German. This brought the days total up to about 25, and, in addition, he had captured two officers and 18 enlisted men. All this meant the addition of a Congressional Medal of Honor to the plucky sergeants collection of decorations.
By morning Achain was clear, and unquestionably Sergeant Spurrier had played a big part in its capture; but it was far from being a one-man performance. All companies of the 2nd Battalion were engaged heavily in the action, and it cost the battalion 106 casualties including every officer in Company F. Battle casualties in the other battalions ran the days total for the Regiment above the 200 mark, and, in addition, there were more than 50 men evacuated as a result of exposure to the cold, wet weather. Men of the 134th took what consolation they could from the knowledge that the enemy had suffered worse casualties no less than 116 prisoners were taken and that the weather was as bad for him (though there was some advantage for those who defended from houses while their attackers came out of water-soaked foxholes and across soggy ground toward them).
The snow melted in light rains early the next morning, and once more all three battalions faced an effective enemy in miserable weather. The coldness seemed to grow in its penetration of light rubberized raincoats, or the rain added weight as bulky overcoats absorbed the moisture. Neither of those garments, nor a combination of both, was satisfactory for the fighting man in that weather. (Most preferred to rely on a field jacket and sweaters). Some kind of a coat that would turn both wind and rain was needed, and in fact, that such a coat could be made up was demonstrated in the field coat of a closely-woven water repellant cloth with a detachable woolen lining which was available for purchase by officers at post exchanges; yet no such garment had been made available for issue. Another bit of irony was to be found in the absence of satisfactory footwear. An order had come from Division (or higher Headquarters) at the beginning of this attack that no overshoes, (although they had been issued) were to be worn during the operation soldiers were to travel light so that they could move rapidly. Many soldiers did not like to wear overshoes anyway, but members of the 134th did know that other footgear had been designed that would be more satisfactory; they had used shoepacs the leather boot with the rubber foot, worn with thick felt insoles and two pair of ski socks on West Virginia maneuvers.
Many elements of warfare are unpredictable, but one thing should have been certain that winter weather would be coming around November. It was unfortunate that the supply services had not made provisions for that development. Now feet swelled inside water-soaked G.I. shoes and grew numb; men who followed the advice of higher headquarters to change socks daily and exercise the toes, often found it impossible to get shoes on again, and their loss to the Regiment was just as effective as though a new barrage of "88" shells had descended upon them.
The 3rd Battalion had little trouble in advancing from its position on the ridge (14 November), to Hill 317, which commanded the northwest approaches to Morhange, but the second did encounter strong opposition one of its supporting T.D.s was knocked out as it ventured to engage a German tank as it left Achain to advance on Rode. Most trouble this day came for the 1st Battalion as it moved toward the high ground southwest of Morhange. It even had to make new attacks to complete its control of Hills 260 and 273. (Company C was in the assault on Hill 260 this time.) As in most important advances in difficult situations, there was individual heroism which often meant the difference between success and failure in a local action. Lt. Willard C. Hedge of Nebraska, a C Company platoon leader, crawled forward 60 yards to toss two hand grenades against the enemy machine gun, but he was killed as he tried to get back to his platoon. Another C Company soldier, Pfc. Wilbur C. Pyle defied enemy fire to advance upon a series of foxholes. A bullet knocked his helmet off, but he went on without it, and rushed in to capture three of the enemy before they could either stop him with their fire or get out of their hole. But this was only the beginning. He continued, behind a barrage of his grenades, to a second and third foxhole, took two more prisoners, and then threw a grenade into a fourth foxhole to kill one enemy soldier and capture another. When anther machine gun held up the companys advance, Staff Sergeant Gilbert T. Wright of Kansas moved out to destroy it with one of his grenades; then he got the crew with his rifle. Enemy forces rallied, however, against Company C. Now Lt. William D. Jardine of Minnesota, and his supporting machine gun platoon of D Company assumed the initiative. An effective use of hand grenades gave an opening, and the machine gunners began moving forward; indeed, they pushed out to a knoll (Hill 257), 150 yards in advance of rifle platoons and went into action. With this advance base of fire, rifle platoons were able to work their way forward, and they picked up 15 prisoners doing so. But then a counterattack developed and forced a withdrawal of some of the troops. The D Company machine gunners, however, held their ground; they kept up their machine gun fire until one gun was destroyed by a direct hit, and the ammunition ran out for the others. Fire from a German tank killed the section leader, Staff Sergeant Delmer C. Belders of Nebraska, and claimed other victims in the platoon. Survivors, nevertheless, now turned to rifles and automatic rifles for their defense, and at last the counterattack was repulsed.
With the 1st Battalion now on the high ground commanding the approaches to Morhange from the southwest, the 3rd Battalion in a similar position to the northwest, and the 2nd Battalion in the valley between, east of Rode, the stage was set for the attack against Morhange itself. (The Regimental C.P. now was at Bellange.) Stretching along a west-east axis of about 3,000 yards, Morhange was very much of a military town. There were military barracks in its east end, and it was an important supply point for the German forces. It had been the scene of one of the first important battles between French and Germans in the opening weeks of World War I, 1914. Now its defense was in the hands of the 11th Panzer Division which was under orders to hold at all costs. In addition, there would be remnants of the 1126th and 1127th Infantry Regiments which had fallen back before the 134th earlier attacks. The 11th Panzer had seen a great deal of action in Russia, and some of its units had arrived in the Morhange area only this week after reorganization and training at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. In addition, labor battalions were being kept in the barracks of Morhange, and from there workers went out each day to work on anti-tank ditches and other defensive obstacles in the area to the east of the town.
A message from division headquarters earlier had indicated that with the capture of Morhange, the 35th Division was to be "pinched out" (again!) and revert to corps reserve. This made more desirable the early capture of that objective. First step in reducing Morhange itself was an all-night artillery barrage. The Regiments supporting 161st Field Artillery (already those artillerymen had won new favor for themselves by reporting the destruction of 14 German batteries during one day) had received instructions to fire 3,000 rounds into Morhange during the night, and other battalions of "Divarty" had similar assignments. In addition, corps artillery including gigantic 240mm howitzers joined in the program.
The plan of attack, as it finally evolved, was for the 2nd and 3rd Battalions to go through the town together, while the 1st Battalion remained in position on the high ground to the south. Both battalions ran into some enemy fire as they maneuvered across fresh snow to get into position, but after a fire fight at the edge of the town including some wicked 20mm fire resistance disappeared, and both battalions, the 2nd on the right, the 3rd on the left, marched cautiously, but rapidly, through the streets. The 3rd Battalion reached the church . . . it passed the Adolf Hitler Café . . . the Heinrich Himmler Café . . . and soon were pushing toward the eastern outskirts. Here, however, the 3rd Battalion found a new factor introduced into its troubles. The most intensive machine gun barrage that they have ever seen caught the men of that battalion by surprise, and they scattered for cover not knowing whence the fire came or what could be done about it. Actually, it was coming from the left rear, and soon the rhythm of slow-firing machine guns (relatively) became familiar to experienced ears they were American, and the fire was coming from tanks of the 4th Armored Division which were following along the highway to the left rear, There were no direct communications, but Lieutenant Shields, acting as assistant battalion S-3 at the time, ran into a house, grabbed a white sheet, and, waving this frantically, he ran out to the tanks and had them hold their fire. Afterwards the tanks turned their fire against the enemy at Tie Lorraine out along the railway, just northeast of Morhange with such effect that Company L had no further difficulty in reaching that objective. The other units moved out to the railway the 1st Battalion now had renewed its attack to drive through Racrange, about a mile southeast of the edge of Morhange; the Regimental C.P. and special units moved into the city, and the Regiment was prepared to stay for a while. Companies improved their positions next day, and supply personnel made special efforts to rehabilitate clothing and equipment. Three men of a Service Company salvage crew were killed, and another wounded, when one stepped on a mine in a field west of Achain.
The promised "pinch-out" for the division failed to materialize, but the Regiment did get to remain at Morhange as division reserve when the 137th and the 320th resumed the attack to the northeast three days later (18 November). Now the 6th Armored Division came into this zone, and while the tanks and the other infantry regiments pushed on through Harprich, Vallerange, Virming, Berig-Vintrange, Bertring, Gros-Tenquin, Linstroff, Erstroff, the 134th Infantry awaited further orders at Morhange. The Regiment was placed on one hours alert at 1230, on 19 November, but no further order came after that; in fact, no further order came until the 21st. The pause gave an opportunity for the men of the 134th to make good use of the much-sought-after shelter of the town; it permitted the assimilation of newly-arrived replacements into the companies, gave the Red Cross man a chance to function, let Captain Anderson check personnel records, allowed the chaplains to hold church services. It was during this period that a provisional Military Police Platoon, with Captain Lloyd D. Gibson, commanding, was organized in the Regiment.
The order on the 21st was for movement forward to an assembly position at Linstroff. It required a march of about six miles, but the village, a typical Lorraine farm village, had little to offer in the way of protection, and headquarters installations regimental, battalion, artillery soon had it overcrowded. This became, then, one of the rare occasions on which the members of the line companies did pitch shelter tents. That same evening tanks of the 6th Armored Divisions Combat Command B, with a battalion of the 137th, took Hellimer.
A new corps order on 22 November, again envisaged the "pinching out" of the division (and of the 26th Division, on the right), after another three-mile advance, and then continuation of the attack by the 80th Division (on the left), and the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions. But the 134th Combat team was to be attached to the 6th Armored Division. At 1500, the 1st and 3rd Battalions began moving toward Hellimer for attachment to C.C.B. The 35th Divisions attached tank battalion (the 737th), was also attached to C.C.B., and now task forces were formed as follows: TF 1 (Kroechell) 737th Tank Battalion; 1st Battalion, 134th Infantry; Company B, 603rd TD Battalion; 1st Platoon, Company A, 60th Engineers; 1st Platoon, Company A, 25th Engineers (Armored); 1st Section, Battery B, 777th Anti-Aircraft Battalion. TF 2 (Lagrew) 15th Tank Battalion; 3rd Battalion, 134th Infantry; Company C, 603rd TD Battalion (less one platoon); Company A, 25th Engineers (Armd.). (Less on platoon), two sections, Battery B, 777th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, 128th Field Artillery (Armd.), direct support. TF 3 (Wall) 50th Armored Infantry Battalion; F Troop, 86th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mezd); 1st Platoon, Company C, 603rd TD Battalion; one section Battery B, 777th Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AW) Battalion.
Thanksgiving Day was approaching, and turkey, with all the trimmings, was on the menu. But it was a risk to order turkey dinners in this kind of situation, and the battalion had to make a guess at the most opportune time. The 1st Battalion took advantage of their reserve position, and served the celebrated bird on the 22nd just before orders came to move into an assembly area. The 3rd Battalion waited a day longer, and was able to beat another order by a slight margin. It made little difference which day was chosen, for cold rain made its attempt to dampen spirits at whatever time was chosen. It was almost a pathetic scene that found men huddling together under a kitchen fly, or in a pup tent, or in an old shed, trying to shield the attractive turkey and giblet gravy and potatoes and cranberry sauce from the rain, and eat it before all the heat of the cooking escaped into the cold mess kits. It was a radical change from K rations, and the grim battle veterans enjoyed it enthusiastically. It almost was a communion feast, in thought, as memories resurrected happy times at home with joyful families. Once it was over, the day seemed more dismal than ever, and Lorraine even farther removed from home.
The turkey eaten, the 3rd Battalion marched out of armor-crowded Hellimer for St. Jean Rohrbach, about four miles up the highway to the northeast, to join Task Force Lagrew. The 1st Battalion, with Task Force Kroechel, moved from Erstroff to Petit Tenquin and prepared to attack toward Hilsprich.
Briefly, the combined infantry-armored attacks were only partially successful. As the first step toward the objective of Puttelange, infantrymen of the 3rd Battalion cleaned out groups of enemy from intervening woods on 24 November, but a deep anti-tank ditch running across the military crest of the ridge as it sloped toward the narrow Maderbach River necessitated bridging operations that night before tanks could enter the next day. That done, the tanks jumped off, but the odds were against them. They had to stay on the road to cross the anti-tank ditch, and as they did so, they came under the effective fire of a long-barreled German tank gun which was firing from a Puttelange cemetery; then, if they deployed off the road, they bogged down in the deep, sticky mud. With this attack stalled, the 3rd Battalions Companies I and K turned to the right and moved down to seize Remering. There they met men of the 1st Battalion, and divided the occupation of the town. The 1st Battalion had retaken Hilsprich after a hard fight the day before (the 1st Battalion, 137th previously had won and lost that town), and then continued through a thousand yards of woods, and then debouched from the woods to continue to Remering.
The 2nd Battalion had remained in reserve during these operations, but now it moved to a new assembly position at Hilsprich, (Regimental C.P. moved to St. Jean Rohrbach), and then, at 0900 on 26 November, it attacked southeast to attack Hirbach and Hinsing (on the Maderbach River about three and four kilometers southeast of Remering).
There the situation was to remain for a while, but the 134th was relieved of attachment to the 6th Armored Division. Units of that division executed an orderly relief the night of 28 November, of the Regiments units on the line, and the battalions assembled at St. Jean Rohrbach the next day to board trucks the first truck movement since Nancy but it was a short move (10 miles), to a group of villages around Lixing-les-Avold. Now, in corps reserve, there were a few days for rest and rehabilitation and some training in the assault of fortified positions (against pillboxes of the Maginot system) and for special schools for aid men and communications men.
On 2 December such periods always seemed to be far too short the Regiment returned to the line; in fact, it returned to its old positions around St. Jean Rohrbach and the Maderbach River, a thing which seldom occurred in this combat. Units of the 6th Armored Division relieved in the zone, the Regiment now was on its own for the capture of Puttelange. There was one more important advantage now: there was to be a whole day for reconnaissance; and the battalion and company commanders of the 1st and 2nd Battalions scheduled to make the assault made good use of the time with extensive reconnaissance on the ground and in the air (in an artillery liaison plane). Such reconnaissance was of particular importance now, for it was in contemplation of a night attack.
It was 0400 when men of the 1st and 2nd Battalions lined up in the night rain to deliver their surprise for the sleeping Germans. It was a night fit neither for man nor beast to be abroad. There was no artillery preparation, no lights, no whistle signals. Just soft calls of "Come on, lets go," and then the sloshing of heavy shoes in mud or the scuffing of shoes along the road. But an absence which was more welcome was that of enemy fire. Captain William N. Denny of Missouri, commanding Company C, and Captain John W. Williams of Nebraska, commanding Company A, directed their companies expertly down to the preselected crossing sites, past Maginot Line pillboxes, and went into the town from two directions. The surprise was complete, and the leading companies were nearly through the town before any firing started. Sleepy Nazis found themselves hustled off as prisoners with scarcely time to put on their boots. Major Craig and his command group came under machine gun fire when they tried to go into the town; they were pinned down at one spot for about ten minutes, tried to find another route, were pinned down again, but finally were able to infiltrate past the defenses. As a matter of fact, while A and C Companies continued on to the east, B Company had to do a recleaning of the town. So many Germans and most of them were members of the 17th Panzer Division had been by-passed in the darkness that the reserve company took more prisoners than did both of the assault companies. No less than 80 of the Nazis had to be aroused from their sleep; this raised the total bag to 109. At 0600 the 320th Infantry (on the right) reported 200 enemy moving from Puttelange across their front. One man in the 1st Battalion had been killed, but there had not been another casualty. Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion had been meeting with similar good fortune in its attack on the left. Companies F and G, with E following, overran German defenses on the high ground to the north of Puttelange. Enemy forces did attempt a counterattack, but heavy artillery concentrations broke up that threat. After waiting for engineers to complete bridges across the Maderbach, and for supporting tanks and T.D.s to come up, the leading battalions renewed their attack in the afternoon. It carried the 1st Battalion to Ernestviller (three kilometers northeast of Puttelange), and the 2nd Battalion beyond Hill 287 to Guebenhouse. The 3rd Battalion, in reserve, had moved up to Diffembach at dawn, and now moved into Puttelange.
When men of the 134th took to the roads again the next day (5 December), there was a well-founded hope that the German forces had withdrawn to the Saar River. It was largely an unopposed advance through Woustviller and Roth here the 3rd Battalion "peeled off" to the right to take Neufgrange to the outskirts of the important industrial town of Sarreguemines (population: 16,000). Sarreguemines lay astride the Saar River at the point where the Blies met the Saar, and where, according the pre-Hitler reckoning, France met Germany. Here the 2nd Battalion ran into another fire fight, and street fighting continued in the darkness. One platoon, penetrating far into the city, captured an 88mm gun intact, and killed the six members of the crew in the process. That same night, a platoon from Company K patrolled down to Remelfing, on the banks of the Saar about two kilometers Southeast of Sarreguemines, and, finding it clear, occupied it while Captain Jack Campbell took advantage of the darkness to have the remainder of the company steal into that strategic location before daybreak. Already reconnaissance was underway for a river crossing.
There was some street fighting to be done in Sarreguemines the next day. One Platoon of Company G went through its zone alright, but soon it found itself isolated in a building at a considerable distance from other friends. Aware of this situation, the company commander was anxious to make contact with this platoon. Pfc. Melvin K Hoff volunteered to deliver the message. Hoff found his way through fallen brick and plaster and wires to the vicinity of the house. But as he approached it he noticed four German soldiers trying to get in through a side entrance. His reaction was quick; he opened fire in time to get all four three were killed and one wounded. He delivered his message and returned to the Company.
Plans were afoot to attempt a crossing of the river on 7 December, but orders came the preceding evening to delay operations 24 hours.
Reconnaissance had failed to disclose any very satisfactory crossing sites in Sarreguemines itself, but a Company I patrol had found that one of a pair of railway bridges (they formed a Y in crossing the river midway between Sarreguemines and Remelfing) was passable for foot troops, and an L Company patrol had crossed the river from a point southeast of Remelfing, and found it satisfactory for crossing to Sarreinsming. An attractive possibility suggested itself perhaps the Regiment could steal across the railway bridge. It would be a gamble to send all three battalions across at that one site, but, should the leading companies arouse opposition, it still would be possible to send the 3rd Battalion up to the other site to cross by boat. The additional day made it possible to complete such plans, and it also was a "field day" for artillery observers hiding with Company K and directing the accurate artillery fire onto German entrenchments hardly 100 yards away on the opposite bank of the river.
At 0500 the next morning, men of the 1st Battalion led out in another stealthy night attack. The 2nd Battalion, coming down from the heart of Sarreguemines, followed, and lastly, came the 3rd Battalion, down the tracks through the Foret de Sarreguemines. All were across by 0655, but then, the German machine gun fire broke out. It caught the last platoon of Company K and Company L, and they were pinned down by fire from a group of buildings to the right of the railway. But the other companies kept going the 1st and 2nd Battalions, on the northeast, and Company I, with two platoons of Company K close behind, up the river bank to the right, toward Sarreinsming. Lt. George M. Kryder, Jr., of Michigan, twice wounded, had returned to the Regiment in time to take command of Company I at St. Jean Rohrbach. Now he took his troops rapidly through the night, rolling up the flank of the German entrenchments with highly effective left flank protection being furnished by tanks and T.D.s firing overhead from positions on the hill across the river, moving into Sarreisnming without delay. The company had captured 50 prisoners, but there was no way to evacuate them now, so that Kryder set up his own PW cage, established an aid station to care for the wounded, and assembled civilians in one section of the town so that they could not interfere with operations, and so that they could be screened.
The 1st Battalion also was involved in difficult fighting as it attempted to get a settlement called Stembach. The 2nd Battalion had forged ahead on the left, but then Colonel Roecker held up to await development in the 1st Battalions engagement. It was well that he made that decision, because a counterattack was forming. Counterattack always is the big danger after a river-crossing, but here it would be a particularly precarious situation as long as there was no bridge to bring across armored units and anti-tank guns and the support of the three battalions of foot troops. The counterattack came that afternoon against the 2nd Battalion. Eight tanks supported the German infantrymen. Perhaps it was fortunate that the division chief of staff arrived at the Regimental C.P. just after the 2nd Battalion reported the counterattack; immediately he called to arrange for the concentrations of nine battalions of artillery against the danger spot, and a few minutes later he called for an air strike. At any rate, artillery did answer the call of the 2nd Battalion observers in a tremendous volume, and the Germans soon were scurrying back. A timely air strike arrived to complete the breakup of the enemy concentrations.
It was late that afternoon before L Company was able to break loose and move into Sarreinsming, and the 1st Battalion was able to move forward. Late that evening a six man patrol from the 2nd Battalion went down to the left front to investigate the town of Neunkirch. Wary of moving too freely through enemy-held territory, the men stopped at a house near the edge of the village to seek information from the civilian inhabitant. He seemed to be cooperative enough as he invited them in. Too late, they realized that they had been led into a trap. German soldiers appeared suddenly. The Americans darted for the exit; three got away, but the others were caught. These three lucky ones then started back along the dark, strange road toward their own battalions. But again, there was trouble when they ran into a large enemy outpost. Rifle fire hit one of them, but finally the two survivors got back to the battalion just before midnight. Half an hour later the first three men returned only the man who was hit was missing.
|Company E lost another commander when Captain Byron T. Blackburn of Nebraska, died in an artillery barrage near the Saar River. Barney Blackburn had joined the Regiment as an enlisted man, and had left Company Ms Mortar Platoon to take command of E Company in time to lead some of the attacks east of Nancy. He was sold on his new command. He was sure that his company was the best in the Regiment. "Theyll go anywhere," he had remarked once. "All I have to do is get out in front and say come on."|
Battalions expanded their bridgeheads the next day, and bridging operations proceeded under a screen (but intense artillery fire just the same) laid by the 81st Chemical Smoke Generating Company. Engineers were able to get a treadway across the first of the obstacles here again, there was a canal parallel to the river but the accurate artillery fire on the major bridge site engineers were putting in a bailey bridge over a destroyed span of the old bridge at Sarreinsming delayed operations there. Pending the completion of that bridge, the engineers built two infantry support rafts in order to get the needed support weapons across the river. They would not float a T.D., however, and there was even some difficulty with ones carrying and anti-tank gun. Technical Sergeant George L. Frank of North Dakota, Anti-Tank Company platoon sergeant, went down to get a 57mm gun and its 1 ½-ton truck prime mover across the river to the 3rd Battalions position around Sarreinsming. The men took the truck and the gun aboard the hastily-constructed power-driven raft. An artillery barrage greeted the raft as it pushed out into the river. The motors failed. Shell fragments tore through the structure. Sergeant Frank had his men bailing water furiously with their helmets, but the thing was sinking. It ran aground on a bar, and it began to be only a question of whether the artillery or the river waters would deliver the coup de grace. Frank jumped into the stream to test its depth. Finding it possible to stand, he called the others into the water. It took 40 minutes of vigorous pushing and pulling to land the craft, and then the crew took their gun through the mud and wire and mines and got it into action.
Late that night the engineers completed their work of assembling the Bailey Bridge, and a tank destroyer rumbled down to push it into position.
The bridge was open to traffic, and tanks and T.D.s and artillery coming across, the battalions could resume their advance the next day (10 December). They moved through another heavily-wooded area La Grand Bois, and the 3rd Battalion, on the right, seized the wooded dome-like hill called Bauerwald, while the 1st Battalion took Folpersviller, and the 2nd Battalion occupied another woods to the rear, along the Neukirch highway. Now the leading battalions were within a thousand yards, or less, of the Blies River and old Germany.
It required a few hours for the 1st Battalion to complete the clearing out of Folpersviller the next morning, but then the 137th Infantry was coming up on the left (after crossing the Saar on the railway bridge and clearing that part of Sarreguemines which lay northeast of the river), and it was possible to get down to the Blies River at Frauenberg without too much further trouble. Troops of the 3rd Battalion drove down out of the Bauerwald and seized Blies Ebersing, a village on the Blies River about two kilometers up stream (southeast) from Frauenberg.
Tentative preparation began for the third river-crossing operation of the week. And this promised to be the most difficult of them all. The enemy emphasized this when he loosed an artillery barrage on Folpersviller that afternoon of 300 rounds in 30 minutes. A telephone message came from division at 1415:
|G-2 reports Blies River is swift. Forts on other side of river are well manned. Enemy fire denies observation. Depth of river in zone is over a mans head.|
This would have to be a crossing by assault boat. Captain Mercer of Company A, 60th Engineers, reported that 40 boats and 216 feet of bridge material were available for crossing. Orders went to the 3rd Battalion at 1645 to begin reconnaissance for a crossing site. But the decision, initially, was for the 1st Battalion to make the crossing by assault boat at Frauenberg. Colonel Craig received orders at 2000 "to cross the Blies River by morning and seize Habkirchen." (Habkirchen was a town which extended for a thousand yards along the bank of the river opposite Frauenberg.) The pressure was on to get a foothold in Germany, and it seemed that that might have greater assurance of success if two battalions were to undertake a simultaneous crossing. At 2045, Major Heffelfinger was ordered to be prepared to take the 3rd Battalion across the river at the same time as the 1st, but at a different spot. The plan was to have the two battalions go into Habkirchen from opposite directions the 1st from the northwest, the 3rd from the southeast and close a pinchers on it. The 2nd Battalion was to move to Blies Ebersing and cover the crossing by fire.
The 3rd Battalion S-3 was ordered at 2100 to the Regimental C.P. to discuss further details of the plan. But before he arrived, 45 minutes later, there were one or two other developments. The engineers reported that not 40, but 20, assault boats were on the way to Frauenberg; there would be none for the 3rd Battalion. It appeared that this might not be necessary, however, when the S-2 picked up information from civilian sources that the river in the right of the zone was fordable at one point where the water was shallow, the bottom sandy and rocky, the width 15 to 20 meters. After discussing the situation with the 3rd Battalion S-3, and considering the fact that the civilian report was unconfirmed, it seemed desirable to seek whatever expedients might be available to assist this effort. The only possibility seemed to be to make use of the small rubber reconnaissance boats of the engineers; the thought was that ropes might be secured on either end of them, and then teams might pull them back and forth across the stream in a shuttle service. As it turned out, this remained as almost the sole responsibility, because a Company L reconnaissance patrol under Lt. Tom Parris of Georgia, found that the stream definitely was not fordable in the Blies Ebersing area the patrol got out to a small island, all in complete darkness, of course, but then a man stepped off the other side and went in over his head. They were able to reach German soil by swimming, but it was not a way recommended for assault troops. Major Carroll, Regimental S-3, had called the engineers for the rubber boats seven were available and for 1200 feet of rope. Four more boats ultimately were available, and the 3rd Battalion S-2 and S-3 led the Battalion Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, with the boats, down through the black night toward Blies Ebersing. A knocked-out T.D. on the highway necessitated a detour, and by the time the group found its way through the blacked-out woods, and down through Folpersviller, and then east toward Blies Ebersing (as far as a destroyed creek bridge), and then the crews struggled with hopelessly tangled ropes, it was becoming a race against daylight a daylight which would expose the assembled 3rd Battalion to the fire and observation from the hills across the river.
Men of the 1st Battalion, during this time, were forming in Frauenberg for their crossing in engineer assault boats. The sounds of swift waters covered somewhat the sounds of launching the boats, and they pushed out into the stream Company C was leading without arousing enemy reaction. But the river itself was problem enough. One of the boats tipped, and it went down; men disappeared beneath the dark, swirling water without a sound. Some of them were able to swim to the bank, but the current and the heavy equipment was too much for the others. The other boats, however, were able to continue, and men of Company C went up the bank and into the first houses of Habkirchen to complete another surprise night attack. By 0730, Company B was across the river, and going into buildings on the left side of Company C. Now, however, German defenders had awakened to the attack, and the crossing site came under fire. Company A then was awaiting the completion of the foot bridge, but heavy artillery fire delayed all bridging operations. This meant that Companies C and B, with supporting machine guns from Company D, were all alone in the enemy village with no immediate means for reinforcement or for supplies. Swift current and daylight had denied a crossing for any part of the 3rd Battalion with the little rubber boats, and those companies had gone back, under fire, to the protection of the buildings of Blies Ebersing where the 2nd Battalion also now had moved.
Close fighting continued in Habkirchen during the day with little change either way. It was with such leadership as that of Technical Sergeant Cecil G. Eckley of Kansas, a Company B platoon sergeant, who reached a house near the village creek with five men of the light machine gun section, and then remained for nine hours to direct fire and adjust mortar and artillery fire against repeated enemy counterattacks, that the 1st Battalion was able to hold out.
That night the 3rd Battalion marched down the old railway from Blies Ebersing to Folpersviller where it would be available to reinforce the attack against Habkirchen the next day.
At midnight groups of Germans began storming the American-held houses. A rocket from a German bazooka would streak through the window and burst in a blinding flash and jarring explosion; then would come a series of concussion grenades, and then enemy soldiers would dash through the doorway. In this pattern the Germans began reducing the number of houses which were "American occupied." Most of Company B was being "sacked up." Colonel Craig ordered Company A across the river on the footbridge to go to the assistance of B and C, but only a part of that Company was across when the bridge capsized. Those who did arrive on the scene were able to do little to influence the situation. Captain William M. Denny of Missouri, the Company C commander, was in radio contact with B Company, and tried to coordinate the defenses. When a German 88mm gun went into action, Denny advised battalion headquarters that it might not be wise to send more troops under the circumstances, but they were on their way and the collapsed bridge that reduced the number that arrived anyway. As Germans closed in against the B Company C.P., Denny sent some of his men over to the other building to bolster the defenses there; but they were captured en route. Only Lt. George Melocheck, company executive officer, and a handful of men survived in Company B the company commander, and all the other officers were gone. They made their was over to the big house where C Company still was holding up. Captain Denny had 21 men left in the house and 65 German prisoners which had been captured during the preceding day were herded into the basement. It was a slim toe-hold which the Regiment held in Germany.
But the 3rd Battalion was on its way. Alerted as soon as reports of the midnight counterattacks had come, the 3rd, once again in a night of absolute blackness, was filing out of Folpersviller by 0215, and an hour later it was assembled in Frauenberg, ready to cross the river. Now the footbridge still was down, and only ten boats were available. It took another 45 minutes to get these ready and down to the river. Company L led this crossing and was able to reach the opposite bank without difficulties beyond those of the swift current. Company I started across, but machine gun fire began to rake the crossing site while nearly half the company remained yet to cross. The thud and burst of rockets and grenades and streams of colored tracers from machine guns and wild screams announced that another counterattack had come.
There were 60 or 70 Germans coming against the house of C Company. A rocket blazed through one of the windows and the concussion of its burst knocked an automatic rifleman down, but he got up and resumed firing. Acting First Sergeant Dal M. McClara of Nebraska had neither his helmet nor his rifle he had been in the boat which had overturned, and had been fortunate to escape with his life but he had picked up a German rifle, and was using it so effectively that he knocked out a German machine gun. Lieutenant Melocheck was at an upstairs widow turning a German M.G. 42 against the enemy with a vengeance. When the assailants closed in shouting "Komm heraus," Melocheck let them have some of their own machine gun fire. They got no farther. A group of nine men were still holding out in a house a short distance forward. The alerted men heard the enemy coming. They watched a group bunch on the road and come closer to the house; they held their fire a little longer, then threw grenades. Germans kept coming; a bazooka round came through the door, and then concussion grenades. All but three of the defenders were knocked out. With hand grenades these killed the first group of Germans who entered, and then ran down into the cellar. But now the house was burning, and Sergeant Granzie Nicholas of Kentucky and the other refugees hurried upstairs and dragged their wounded comrades down to the underground hide-out before the roof fell in. They remained hidden in the basement until the Germans, apparently believing them dead, departed. The heroic stand of Company C and the 2nd Platoon of Company D was recognized later in the Presidential citations.
The 2nd Battalion had moved from Blies Ebersing to Frauenberg in order to follow the 3rd Battalion across the river to Habkirchen, but not all of the 3rd had been able to get across. Some men of the 137th Infantry, six or seven boat loads, had been able to cross, but it was reported that "the enemy is lowering the boom on them." In the face of such devastating enemy fire, all the newly-arrived troops tended to gravitate toward Company Cs house, which was the first good cover. As a result, added numbers were not adding to the strength of the bridgehead, but were complicating the picture by adding to the already overcrowded building.
Fierce fighting continued throughout the day (13 December). Sporadic machine gun and rifle fire marked every movement in the streets, across the lawns, or in the houses. German mortar and artillery fire continued along the river - around the boat crossing site, the footbridge, the old bridge site where engineers hoped to put in their Bailey bridge; and supporting tanks and tank destroyers and anti-tank guns of the 134th Infantry, on the heights across the river, poured highly effective direct cannon fire into the German-held buildings, while artillery ringed the approaches to the town. Men of Companies I and L had been able to gain possession of some additional buildings, but enemy pressure never diminished. Company I lost its commander when Lt. George Krider got a painful back wound. Indeed casualties on both sides mounted to the point that there was an unofficial truce that afternoon while medics, both German and American, worked to evacuate the wounded - Germans even went out of their way to help the wounded enemy.
Engineers were able to get the footbridge back into service that evening, and, under cover of darkness, Company K now went across into Habkirchen. (One platoon of Company I remained in Frauenberg for flank protection.) Still results were indecisive. There was not room in the bridgehead for maneuver, but there were more houses to be defended against German counterattack.
There did remain, however, another possibility for maneuver. That was to send the 2nd Battalion around to the right to cross a bridge in the zone of the 320th Infantry and then swing around to take the high ground east of Habkirchen. It was the long way around, but the 2nd Battalion moved out that night (again under the command of Major Carlyle F. McDannel, for Lt. Col. Roecker had been evacuated for the third time), retrace its steps back up to Blies Ebersing, and continue to the bridge, where it crossed at 0400 (14 December). The battalion was on its objective - on the hill east of Habkirchen - at 0600, and the men dug in for all-around defense. From the German point of view this was a rather embarrassing spot for an enemy battalion. It was athwart the main highway running into Habkirchen from the east. Several German supply people were caught unawares. One truck was knocked out that bore Red Cross markings - but carried a load of mortar ammunition.
There was little gain, however, in Habkirchen itself. Colonel Craig and Major Heffelfinger, who had been coordinating the efforts of their battalions from an O.P. in a riverside building of Fruenberg, went across into Habkirchen to direct the battle from the C Company house. It was another day of close battling, direct fire, house-to-house fighting, indecision. More force on the ground to the rear, and less in the constricted area, seemed yet to recommend itself. Company K was withdrawn from Habkirchen that evening at 1900, and moved on trucks to the site where the 2nd Battalion had crossed earlier that morning; it ascended the hill on the left of that battalion. As the column marched up the hill, a squad of men fell in on the tail. The new squad attracted no particular attention until they could be heard mumbling. They were Germans! Mutual recognition was almost simultaneous. There were one or two wild shots, some were captured, but the other Germans scattered toward the town while the Yanks made for the woods on the hill.
When all battalions renewed the assault at 0800 on 15 December, the battle for Habkirchen was approaching a climax. Engineers reported the Bailey bridge completed at 0845. Tanks and T.D.s rolled into Habkirchen before 0900, and the immediate battle for the bridgehead was won. Troops of the 1st and 3rd Battalions moved out of their close quarters, crossed the creek which cut through the town, and completed the job of mopping up before afternoon. Almost without pause the 3rd Battalion continued the fight to the high ground to the east where its depleted L and I Companies joined K in a fire fight through the woods. Another 73 prisoners (still mostly from the 17th SS Panzer Division) came into the regimental cage.
With Habkirchen clear, supporting units began pouring into the town early on 16 December. Cannon Company crossed the bridge - now hotter than ever from the artillery fire of a desperate enemy - and went into position, and the companys celebrated mobile kitchen, "Can-Do," converted from a captured German command post wagon (Lt. Cecil D. Fosters men had picked it up on Thanksgiving Day), rolled into the town to be the only kitchen of the Regiment to get into Germany at this particular time. Always carrying his reconnaissance close behind the infantrymen, Major Schuster soon was in Habkirchen selecting positions for the batteries of the 161st Field Artillery Battalion.
For the 2nd and 3rd Battalions it was attack through the woods again while the 1st Battalion remained assembled in reserve in Habkirchen. There was another bit of unfortunate tank fire - this time machine gun fire and demoralizing cannon fire in woods from tanks which were supposed to be supporting the 137th Infantry on the left. That corrected, the 3rd Battalion proceeded to join the 2nd in an attack against the Hoch Woods. But now German artillery was becoming more precise and more intense that it ever had been before. The battalions were coming within range of the guns of the Siegfreid Line.
That evening, as the 137th attacked against the rim of hills to the north of Habkirchen, German mortars and machine guns were firing counter-battery against the howitzers of Cannon Company and the 161st Field Artillery!
Its companies down to bare skeletons, the 3rd Battalion finally was relieved on 17 December, by elements of the 137th Infantry, and it went back to reserve at Folpersviller. The 2nd Battalion, now attached to the 137th, remained until the next evening, and then it went back to Habkirchen when the 1st Battalion moved up to its relief.
Casualties during those days were becoming greater, not less, but still the Regiment had to be driven on. None of the battalions had the strength remaining to launch an effective attack. Replacements were arriving, but there was not time for absorbing them into their units; there were not enough leaders in the companies to form a cadre to accept the replacements. Armed with casualty figures and facts of the situation, the regimental commander asked, in the strongest terms, for a long enough relief to permit some reorganization.
This demand received added emphasis the next morning (20 December), when a strong counterattack - infantry and tanks - hit the thinly held positions of the 1st Battalion (then under attachment to the 137th), and forced a 1000-yard withdrawal. Now the 1st Battalion was attached to the 320th Infantry; the 2nd was attached to the 137tth, but remained in Habkirchen.
Finally relief came for the entire Regiment. The 324th Infantry (44th Division, Seventh Army) was taking over the sector. In the nine days of bitter fighting at Habkirchen, the Regiment had taken 521 battle casualties - 37 killed, 244 missing (many of whom actually had been killed) 240 wounded. An additional 129 non-battle casualties brought the total losses for this one local engagement to 640 - about the fighting strength of a full battalion. When this is added to the previous 822 battle casualties - 142 killed, and 680 wounded or injured - it becomes apparent that the fighting through Lorraine - over difficult terrain and in the worse kind of weather - was some of the hardest of the war.
The Regiment moved back to the Puttelange area - the 3rd Battalion went to Louperhouse, the 2nd to Guebenhouse, the 1st to Ernestviller. Efforts at assimilation of the large force of replacements (55 new men arrived on the 18th, 111 on the 20th, 346 on the 22nd) began, but that had not been the principal reason for the relief. A great German counteroffensive had broken through in the Ardennes, and General Pattons Third Army was being shifted to Belgium and Luxembourg to meet the serious threat. At 0417, an 23 December, the first march unit crossed the I.P. at Puttelange en route to Metz.
|"Task Force" Spurrier won the CMH (being presented by General Simpson)|
|Some were killed in a mine field|
|Men of Headquarters go to work on Kraut potatoes|
|Map - III Offensive in the Saar|
|TD's went into action in Habkirchen|
|Captain Mason of Company B . . . . he lasted longest|
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