BOUND FOR BATTLE
We came, we fought, we conquered, but that is not the full story. There are chapters of tribute for the "Dogfaces" who made the conquest. There are other chapters about the men who paved the way, who swept the mines, cleared the roads, and built the bridges: the "Combat Engineers".
That brings us to the story of Company "A" of the 56th. Armored Engineer Battalion of the 11th Armored Division, sometimes referred to as "Patton's Sunday Punch".
The story begins in Camp Polk, Louisiana, where the 11th Armored Division, later known as the "Thunderbolt Division", was activated on August 15, 1942. In June of 1943 it went through the Louisiana and Texas maneuvers, returning to Camp Polk the later part of August.
In September we moved to Camp Barkeley, near Abilene, Texas. Some of us went by convoy, while the others traveled by train. We enjoyed our short stay there, which lasted about one month.
We arrived in Camp Ibis, near Needles, California, the middle part of October. We stayed there in the heart of the desert for five months, during the last month of which we participated in "Desert Maneuvers".
From the Desert we convoyed to the California coast, where we settled down again in garrison comforts in Camp Cooke, near Lompoc, California. Camp Cooke was situated on high ground overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and our stay there was a pleasant one. The Thunderbolt Division, seasoned by the Louisiana and Desert Maneuvers, and sharpened by assault and range problems on the California coast, was making the final preparations to move overseas. Saws hummed day and night, as guns, trucks, field ranges, and pyramidal tents were waterproofed and crated. Then one day the packing was finished, the crates were shipped, and the troops loaded for a six-day journey in Pullman cars across the USA.
Some of the men saw their homes from the train windows, but so secret was the move that no one could leave the train except for calisthenics along some siding, to stretch weary muscles.
The objective was reached on Thursday, September 2l, 1944, and with a little shifting of cars, back and forth, we pulled into Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, just in time to hear taps sounding over the sleeping camp.
There at the P. O. E. (Port of Embarkation) the last requirements were met. Brief physical inspections, clothing checks, and abandon- ship drills were held. Passes were issued to some of the men to visit their homes near there, while others received passes to visit the big City of New York for the first time. There was a race for cigarette lighters at the post exchange.
On Thursday, September 28th, packs and steel helmets were again donned, rifles and duffel bags shouldered, and another train boarded. This time it was a short journey to the docks and across the North River by ferry. There was a brief interval when a band played, the Red Cross served coffee and doughnuts, and then up the gang- plank and into the bowels of the USS Hermitage to unforgettable "Apple Compartment".
During the ten days at sea there were more calisthenics on the decks, "sanitation" details, and chow. What chow!! For recreation there were two good swing bands on board and a long P.X. line to stand in. Some sought relaxation in the "Navy Casino", a profitable concession operated by some of the crew members in the hold. There was food, drink, and gambling. Of course the food was borrowed from the ships' stores, and there was a percentage deducted from each hand at poker. Nevertheless, patronage was good, and almost a full squad from the Third Platoon was "captured intact" by the Navy Officer of the Day in a midnight raid on the casino.
Regardless of the rumors that the ship would anchor off the Normandy beaches, on October 9th it docked at Southhampton, England. The 56th Engineers debarked in the afternoon, and that evening took a train to Melksham, Wiltshire. Arriving at that point after dark, we made a three mile hike with full-field pack through the town and up a long, steep-hill to Sandridge Park. There we settled in rustic, twenty-four man huts, and set about our duties: reconditioning physically and readying our equipment for the nearing battle.
The Supply Sergeant, Michael P. Heneghan, was shoulder-deep in requisitions and reports. His famous slogan, "You'll get it at the port", was no longer applicable. The Motor Sergeant, Dallas Dennis, was likewise busy getting the vehicles unpacked and serviced.
After five weeks at Sandridge Park the Battalion was gathered for staging at Codford, where preparations were even more rushed. The vehicles were taken to Southhampton by the advance party and loaded on LST's and Liberty ships. The remainder of the Company left Codford by train, spending the night in a muddy staging camp, and on December 15th, boarded a British transport for the cruise over the channel. Many of the boys were silent that night as they felt the throbbing of the propellers, taking them further from home and into a future of definite hardship and uncertainty.
It was about 1100 on the 16th of December when we pulled into Cherbourg Harbor. Our first glimpse of the continent, through the haze and fog, was over a harbor full of sunken ships, between which we nosed gingerly. The city was battle- scarred and gaunt; burned-out buildings seemed like ghosts and the forebodings of many horrible days to come. We dropped anchor and disembarked to load up on US Army 2 and I/2's, packed in the trucks like sardines, with our duffel bags loaded in the towed one-ton trailers.
We moved out through the ruins of the part of Cherbourg, taking particular interest in the remains of dozens of former German reinforced-concrete pillboxes. The Yanks had come in from the rear and the pillboxes were torn out of the ground by the terrific shelling by big guns. They were tilted crazily and were perforated like so many huge blocks of Swiss cheese.
In the city itself, every building was either bombed into a pile of rubble, or was full of shell holes. Buildings still standing were nicked and pock marked with bullet holes and shrapnel scars. Here and there were a few war weary civilians, who seemed not to care what had happened. Along the highways, we could see many shell craters and mine caution signs. It had been raining previous to our arrival, and the road was glistening wet, while the roadsides and fields were sloppy and muddy.
We moved inland to Briquebec, where we met our drivers and vehicles. They had arrived on the 15th, after crossing the English Channel on LSTs and Liberty ships. We bivouaced in what seemed to be, just then, a beautiful, grassy apple orchard. Shortly after we arrived with our remaining equipment, pup tents were pitched in platoon formation. With the heavy traffic of G.I. boots, the once grassy apple orchard turned into a muddy morass.
The night brought on a heavy rain storm which many of us will not forget, especially LaBuff and Cooper. During the night the strong winds blew a dead apple tree over on their tent, pinning LaBuff to the ground with its branches. However, it did not disturb Cooper any, and LaBuff frantically tried to awaken his tent-mate so he could get free. Cooper, half asleep, stumbled out in the dark, raining night, stood looking around a few minutes, and remarked. "What time did she fall, Chief?" A few minutes later the old buddy had LaBuff free, and with a little repair work on their tent, they went back to sleep.
There wasn't much to do there but battle the mud and learn the ways of Calvados, so the next day, December 18th, we prepared the vehicles for the move on our first assignment.
We were to go down to the St. Nazaire pocket to relieve the 94th Infantry Division which was holding some cut-off Germans in the city with the aid of a Cavalry Group and some FFI Units. Early on the morning of December 19th, we moved out with the Battalion and headed down the west side of the Normandy Peninsula. It was on the famous Normandy Peninsula that some of the fiercest fighting of this, or any other war, ever took place. It was here that General Patton led his men and armor from the beachheads after D-Day.
We continued on towards Avranches, where we could see the waters of the blue Atlantic. Down in the Bay of St. Malo we saw the famous Mont St. Michael. Even from where we were we could see the graceful lines of the famous Shrine.
We passed through Avranches and Rennes to St. Jacques airport, near the latter town. We remained there for a short time, sleeping in pup-tents and enjoying the good, hot meals from the kitchen, prepared by Lucaire, Savage, Bentzen, Johnson, Ryder, Rosse and Cordova. Our Mess Sergeant, Herman A. Smith, was always there of course, to see that each man would eat the proper amount of calories.
While at St. Jacques airport the fellows had the opportunity to take a shower at Rennes and take a few strolls now and then. With the aid of a few French-speaking sharpies, Savage, Fontaine and Lucaire, and under the guiding eye of Sergeant Brand, some of the boys got "beaucoup" Wine, Brandy, Cognac and skin-remover Calvados - - - Nuf said, but Hughes is still punchy.
It was during this time that Von Rundstedt made his counter-attack that brought on the Belgium Bulge. Allied divisions were needed up in that sector, and in a hurry, so our order were changed, and we turned around and headed northeast. We were put in the famous Third Army under "Blood and Guts" Patton, and moving out of St. Jacques airport, we rolled northeast toward Liege, camping for the nights in fields and woods. Setting out on December 21st, we bivouacked near LeMans, then sped through Chartres to Versailles, and on around the edge of Paris to Chateau Thierry. It took over an hour of steady riding to drive through the suburbs of Paris. Scarcely any signs of war damage were seen. We passed many blocks of modern apartment houses, several large universities, and parts of the zoo. On the streets great crowds of French people were cheering and waving us on. An oddity to us were the semi-open public toilets. In Chateau Thierry there was little battle damage from this war. We crossed the Marne River on a recently Combat Engineer built wooden trestle bridge. Looking back over the city we could see, on a hillside, the monument to the dead soldiers of World War I.
We continued on through Rheims, past the famous battlefields of World War I, and on to Camp Sissone, just east of Laon. After getting settled in some former French barracks by 2030 on December 23rd, we got up at 0200 and made preparations to move out at 0630 with Combat Command "A" for the Charleville area.
BATTLE OF THE BULGE
Combat Command "A" under Brig. General Willard A. Holbrook, was made up of the 42nd Tank Bn., 63rd Armored Infantry Bn., 490th Armored Field Artillery Bn., Troop "A" of the 41st Cav. Recon. Sqdn., "A" Co of the 81st Medics, "A" Co of the I33rd Ord., "A" Btry. of the 575th A. A. A., and our own Company.
Upon our arrival in Charleville, the Company Commander, Capt. Robert Blackburn, split "A" Company into platoons for special assignments with task forces in Combat Command `'A".
The First Platoon, under the command of Lt. Proctor and S/Sgt. Brancaglione, set up three road blocks to guard the bridge over the Meuse River at Sedan.
The Second Platoon, under the command of Lt. Tobe and S/Sgt. Meyer, was deployed on outposts across the Meuse River, with the 63rd Infantry.
The Third Platoon, under the command of Lt. Friedl and S/Sgt. Sellers, guarded a railroad bridge and an intersection of a highway leading into the city of Charleville, which proved to be a friendly city for some of the boys during off duty hours until the MP's closed the cafe across the street from the C. P.
The German offensive, which was only a few days old, had threatened that area, with its front lines about twenty miles away. Because of rumors of a Nazi tank force breaking through and heading our way, we had to be on the alert and hold or destroy the bridges if necessary.
Overhead several hundred low-flying C-47's were engaged in carrying supplies to the besieged U. S. troops at Bastogne. Thousands of feet above them in the brilliant blue sky could be seen scores of squadrons of our medium and heavy bombers. All were on their way with loads of Christmas presents for Herr Hitler.
The highways were cluttered with civilians, most of them walking, some riding bicycles, and some pushing or pulling little wagons, and all of them carrying what clothes, bedding, and food they were able to acquire. What a way to spend Christmas Eve, but there will be better days!
The darkness of the night brought on a lone German plane that did a little bombing and strafing, but a detachment of the attached 575th A. A. A. Bn. and our machine guns drove him off.
Christmas Day we improved on our defense barricades. Some of the company were fortunate enough to be invited for a Christmas dinner at the 107th Evacuation Hospital. The beer, wine, champagne and cider brought to some of the G.I.'s. by the civilians was welcomed, and made Christmas complete.
The Third Platoon had their turkey dinner brought up from the company kitchen where they were guarding road blocks.
The Second Platoon, with the 63rd Infantry, was dug in in a field and had to be content with eating Christmas dinner while maintaining outposts. It was bitterly cold, and consequently they had cold turkey and dressing, but it was very good.
In the meantime, Company Headquarters was at Mezieres, and they, too, met up with some air activity. Christmas night we encountered the same air activity again, but this time the AA shot the plane down.
On the 26th of December the Company was assembled in a wooded bivouac area between Fumay and Rocroi. We dug in, expecting enemy air activities, then performed the necessary maintenance of vehicles and equipment. The weather continued to get colder with its freezing temperatures, strong, cold winds, and snow. This was our first feel and glimpse of snow, and it was the beginning of what turned out to be a very bitter, cold winter.
With the German counter-attack stopped, it was then a job of pushing them back beyond the point they came from, so we partook in this task.
At 0330 on the 29th of December we moved out of our bivouac area near Rocroi, going back along the Meuse River through Sedan and Charleville, which towns were battered by artillery, bombing, and street fighting. These towns, if you will recall, were the exact places successfully broken through and captured by the Germans in their Blitz of 1940, and again threatened by the latest drive.
We continued on, going into Belgium and through Neufchateau to a bivouac area near Longlier. Evidence left by the retreating forces proved that they had been hard pressed, because bridges and heavy timber for abitis which had been prepared for demolition, remained standing. At night there was some enemy activity, but one plane was shot down nearby and the others were discouraged by our machine-gun fire. At 2100 on the 29th, the First Platoon moved out to join the 42nd Tanks, and the Second Platoon moved out to join the 63rd Infantry, for the attack the next day, which was to prevent the Germans from cutting off the Bastogne road again. The Third Platoon remained with Company Headquarters, and was alerted to move out at a moment's notice in the event it was needed.
The next day, in the attack which reached as far as Remagne, then stalled, the First and Second Platoons came under their first artillery barrages, but sustained no casualties. We had run head-on into an SS Panzer Division attacking toward us, and we both stalled. During the night of the 30th the Command moved back to the Bastogne road and further to the northeast to be ready for an attack the next day.
The First and Second Platoons moved out with their units at about 0300 on the 31st of December. The peeps and all armored vehicles, especially tanks, had extreme difficulties in traveling over the slippery, ice-bound roads. Vehicles were constantly skidding off the roads into ditches and streams. Because of the road conditions our objective in the vicinity of Morhet was not reached until 1300.
At 1400 the First Platoon moved out behind two companies of tanks through Morhet and Lavasalle toward Rechrival, and was ambushed late that night with Company "A" of the 63rd Infantry, while trying to enter the latter town. They got out without any casualties, but it was a hot spot for awhile, with plenty of lead flying around. The platoon then joined the rest of the Company in a cold, snow-covered field on the edge of Lavasalle.
The next day, New Year's, the First Platoon went into Rechrival close behind the infantry. While enroute, Kirby's half-track was immobilized by hitting a mine. Sgt. Feldman's squad, which was in the vehicle at the time, dismounted without a scratch. Kirby stayed with his halftrack while the squad continued towards Rechrival with mine detectors. At Rechrival Lt. Proctor, Sgt. Feldman, and T/5 Gassman checked a bridge for mines and demolition, and then the whole platoon was given the mission of covering the rear of the infantry company on a hillside which soon came under sporadic mortar and 88 fire. They returned to Lavasalle about 1300, being relieved by the Second Platoon.
The Second Platoon dug in the town of Rechrival, waiting for further orders. About 1800 in the night of January 1st, the enemy opened up with their artillery and mortar fire. The platoon was called upon to hold the front lines with the infantry and cavalry units. Fisher's squad dug in with the infantry and defended a roadblock, and Erger's squad dug in with the 41st Cavalry, also defending a roadblock. The artillery and mortar fire kept coming in, making the men hit the ground several times before they could finish digging their foxholes, which, after completed, were partly filled with water. At about 0130, January 2, 1945, Cpl. Leonard Stull, assistant squad leader for the Second Squad, was hit by a mortar-shell fragment. He was quickly evacuated to the First-Aid Station by Erger, Loder, and Skutchen, where they were informed that he had been killed instantly. This was the Second Platoon's first casualty, and it was an awful blow to all the men, because he was everybody's friend.
At about 1030 that same morning, with the shells still coming in, a shell exploded after hitting the roof of a farmhouse in which several men had taken cover, injuring Swanger and Sgt. Gallagher. Swanger was evacuated to the hospital, and Gallagher returned to duty after receiving first-aid treatment. After twenty-four hours of continued shell firing, the Second Platoon was relieved by units of the 17th Airborne Division, and moved back to join the Company near Sibret.
The Third Platoon, on January 1st, dug in and established two roadblocks on the Lavasalle-Chenogne road. There they experienced their first mortar and artillery fire, that day and the next, returning to the Company near Sibret in the afternoon of January 2nd, after being relieved by units of the 17th Airborne Division.
It was cold and bitter where the Company reassembled in a bivouac area on a hillside between Sibret and Chenogne, and we all dug in again, with snow flurries adding to our discomforts.
At Chenogne we met some of the men from the famous 101st. Airborne Division, who informed us that some of our tanks were the first relief vehicles to be seen by them since they were encircled by the Germans in and around Bastogne.
During the next few days CCA was held in reserve to support the 17th Airborne Division in case of a German counter-attack. A little first-echelon maintenance work was performed on the vehicles; then we checked all the weapons and did a few odd jobs such as filling in shell craters, destroying captured enemy equipment, and repairing bridges.
On the 9th of January we moved into Sibret, where we were billeted in houses and barns. The snow continued to fall, and the continued freezing weather caused many men to be evacuated for frozen feet.
The somewhat comfortable quarters were soon to be evacuated by us. The First Platoon moved out at 0800 on the morning of the 10th to join the 42nd Tanks again, where it was attached to Company "D", the light tank outfit. Again they were living in the field, on the edge of the woods between Velleroux and Senonchanps, spending their time clearing mines for possible routes of advance.
At 1700 on the 12th there commenced another phase of the Bulge operations for our Division. At that time the Company moved through Bastogne with CCA into a bivouac in the woods near Longchamps, while the First Platoon moved up to bivouac in Bois de Niblamont.
The next day, January 13th, is one that will long be remembered by all members of this Company. At 0900 the First Platoon jumped off from Longchamps with the assault tank company, advancing through heavy mortar fire in the direction of Bertogne. While gapping a minefield at a clearing in the woods, S/Sgt. Brancaglione and T/4 Vaughn were wounded by mortar fire, and Pfc. Bakewell was killed. Sgt. Feldman's squad had trouble with its half-track and returned to the Company for the night, while the other two squads continued on to the edge of the woods before Bertogne, where they were put on outpost duty with "A" Companies of the 63rd Infantry and 42nd Tanks for the night.
Early that morning, the 13th, while the Company (less the First Platoon) was having chow, the enemy suddenly opened up with their artillery in our area. Bill and Hank Warcken, twin brothers, and C. R. Brown, all of the Third Platoon, were in a 2-and-l/2-ton truck which received a direct hit and another close hit, mortally wounding the Warcken twins. C. R. Brown was seriously injured. After S/Sgt. Belmont, medic attached to our Company, applied first aid the wounded men were quickly evacuated to the collecting station, where the Warcken brothers died of their wounds. C. R. Brown lost one leg, and the other leg and one of his arms were badly shattered by shrapnel. The Warcken twins were real buddies to everyone in the Company, and will remain forever in our memories and hearts. We are all hoping and praying for the best for C. R. Brown.
About 1000 that same morning the Company, less the First Platoon, moved into Longchamps and dug in. At 1200 Lt. Tobe, taking Sgt. Fisher's and Sgt. Erger's squads, was given the mission of clearing a suspected mine field near the one the First Platoon had gapped. While enroute the two vehicles in which they were riding were halted by an enemy artillery barrage falling about fifty yards to their left. Lt. Tobe and Joseph Gray started to run up towards the crest of the hill to see if it were possible to bring the vehicles forward without being detected by the enemy. As they were running the shells began falling near the half-tracks. A time burst, which exploded a few feet above the ground, killed Lt. Tobe instantly. J. Gray, who was next to the Lieutenant, was saved by a miracle when-a piece of shrapnel struck and broke his M-1. rifle which he was carrying at his side; however, he did receive a slight fragment wound in his back. In the meantime the rest of the men in Fisher's squad tried to take cover, but T/5 Kenneth Gerdlund was mortally wounded and Kenneth Lair was less seriously hit. Erger's squad was in the same shelling, and they too scurried to cover. Pvt. Long was hit in both legs and cried for help, whereupon S/Sgt. Belmont, our aid man, and Cpl. Albert J. Powers rushed to assist the stricken man. Just then another shell hit the half-track near which the squad had taken temporary cover, killing Cpl. Powers instantly and mortally wounding S/Sgt. Belmont and Pvt. Hettenbach. Some of the men from both squads, while still under heavy artillery fire, ran back about two-hundred yards to obtain two peeps. The remainder of the squads helped the wounded men to safer positions until the peeps arrived, when everybody assisted in loading, the injured for evacuation. S/Sgt. Belmont, Gerdlund, and Hettenbach died on the way to the hospital.
It is hard to describe the mental anguish suffered by the Company, and especially by the platoon, in losing these valiant men. The Second Platoon will always remember them. Lt. Tobe was a splendid leader, who always looked out for the best interests of his platoon. S/Sgt. Belmont and Cpl. Powers will not only be remembered for their heroic efforts in trying to aid a wounded man, but also for their unfailing good nature and finer qualities. We shall always recall Gerdlund for his cheerful ways and faithful friendship. Hettenbach will always be remembered for his calm and reliant ways. All were real buddies.
Late in the afternoon of January 13th both the Second and Third Platoons were sent out to clear mines from the road to Bertogne, removing and destroying many Teller mines. Sgt. Lieberman, with a picked crew consisting of Vivian, Lewis, Heiser, Fontaine, Sullivan, and DeHaan, cleared the mines, while Sgt. Celani and his squad gave right-flank security and Sgt. Parkhurst and his squad gave left-flank security.
The next morning the Third Platoon, assisted by "Bill" Williams and his angle-dozer, removed a long, heavily booby-trapped abatis a mile south of Bertogne. It was there that "Bill" hit a trip wire with the dozer blade and wound up in the hospital. However, Sgt. Fowble took over immediately and finished the job.
That afternoon, although there was little movement, the First Platoon lost heavily to mortar fire. Wounded were Cpl. Jim Regnolds, T/5 Kenneth Bauman, Grady Snider, Carl Acosta, "Red" Haskell, "Kippy" Parker, and Jack Cleary, all of whom were evacuated. Late that evening little Cliff Davidson was literally caught with his pants down and spent some time in the hospital with a mortar fragment wound.
On the 15th of January CCA moved into Bertogne as the 17th Airborne entered it from the west. All three platoons led the way, clearing mines. The First Platoon started sweeping the road to the east toward Compogne, with orders to keep going until fired upon. They were soon relieved by the Second Platoon, enabling them to move up and help a tank company get through the Pied du Mont Woods.
The Second and Third Platoons both worked on the road to Compogne, finding large numbers of box mines and several abatis, which they cleared immediately. They soon found themselves well ahead of the tanks and infantry and on the edge of the village. As a party including Skutchan, Hohenthaner, Dorsey, Austin, Vlvian, Sullivan, Quant, Skipper, and Dugan came over the ridge to start down into town they were confronted by a number of Germans, not more than three-hundred yards away, who were firing from buildings and foxholes. Several of the Germans who tried to get out of their foxholes and withdraw to the town met their ancestors at the hands of such sharpshooters as Sgts. Fisher and Schnable, T/4 Cooper, Cpls. Buch and Kramer, T/s Zoradi, and Pvt. Platky.
That night the entire Company bivouacked along the road just west of Compogne, and during the night Lt. Freidl, Sgt. Rein, and T/5 Vivian were sent out on a reconnaissance patrol with a squad from the 17th Airborne. They found a bridge blown and reported to General Holbrook in time to prevent any delay the next day as the column moved toward Houffalize and the First Army. After a day of clearing abatis and bypassing craters under mortar and burp-gun fire, the Company went into bivouac about a mile southwest of Houffalize. The Company had no sooner moved into the bivouac area and dismounted than three artillery shells landed among their vehicles, killing Bob Greenberg and wounding Rufus Morris, Charlie Cearly, Chuck Gassman, and Robert DeHaan. "Doc" Carson, Morris, Lt. Freidl, Robert Gray, and Buch, who refused to take cover, did a wonderful job of first aid. The next morning we had our first experience with the spine-chilling rockets (screeming meemies), which landed on the trees around us and showered the roofs of our dugouts with cold steel. After Houffalize was taken we moved back to Longchamps, where we were billeted in houses. S/Sgt. Smith's kitchen was a welcome sight - - even Savage looked good and sounded good as he voiced a welcome that could have been heard in Berlin: choww-w-w! During our stay in Longchamps Lt. Donnell came to the Company and took over the Second Platoon, Lt. McLain reverting to his position of Company Motor Officer. We removed a few more mines during this period and generally warmed up for a change.
The weather was still bad, with plenty
of snow, when we moved from Longchamps on the 20th of January to an assembly
area north of Noville for an attack through Hardigny to the east. Our objective
was the town of Buret. The First Platoon moved out with the 42nd Tanks early in
the morning, after a night of road reconnaissance on the part of the officers
and peep drivers. We met no resistance but mines and snow and a blown bridge, so
while a squad from the Second Platoon, using T/s Baxter's brockway, put in a
treadway bridge, the other platoons moved into Buret on foot clearing mines.
Then the column of tanks crossed over our treadway and crept along the last two
miles to our objective. All three platoons were busy the rest of the day
clearing mines in deep snow around the town of Buret, and late in the afternoon
S/Sgt. Sellers, Sgt. Liberman, and T/5 Lewis contacted elements of the 6th
Armored Division. Later the entire Company moved to Tavigny Railroad Station,
where a tremendous amount of cleaning-up was necessary before our billets were
livable. It was there we had our first view of our famed leader, General Patton,
as he tried to pass through one of our outposts and was advised by T/5
CRACKING THE SIEGFRIED LINE
With the Ardennes campaign completed, except for a little mopping up by the infantry, we moved up into position on the Siegfried Line. There wasn't much action on our part, as CCA was held in reserve during this time, while the other combat commands did the frontline duty. However, there was a great deal of work to be done in maintaining the supply roads so we did not have an easy life.
Leaving the Buret area, we moved on the sixth of February to Braunlauf, Belgium. The sudden thaw turned the roads into streams of knee-deep mud, and in some cases made them impassable. As these roads were essential for the supply of units on the front, it was up to us to keep them open. The battle was one of persistence and sweat. For almost a week the line platoons worked on the St. Vith supply route near Weiswampach, in Luxembourg. From this road could be seen many fierce battles on the Siegfried Line. Several times enemy artillery shells landed close by. As the battle of the mud became so acute that the nearby 90th Division was being supplied by air, we commandeered all available trucks from units of the Command to augment our own dump trucks in hauling rock to the now bottomless road. The Company, assisted by troops from the 42nd Tank Bn. and 575th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Bn., was dispersed along the roads and in a nearby quarry, where the drilling, blasting, and loading went on from dawn to dusk. In Braunlauf the Company was billeted in adjacent farm buildings, sharing them with the Belgian families. Hospitality was the keynote here, and our hosts kept the rooms spotless, in addition to washing, pressing, and mending our clothes. Nearly every family had one or two pretty daughters, who were very popular. Such experienced interpreters as John Locke, Robert Pfeiffer, and "Shorty" Lucaire had an advantage over the rest of the company, although they did help out in a number of pantomine discussions.
On the 10th of February Lt. Proctor, Sgt. Brancaglione, T/5 Schneiders, and "Doc" Carson went out in a peep to clear a large mine field of deadly stock mines. Sgt. Brancaglione was cutting trip wires, while the others deactivated and removed the mines. After about 500 mines had been removed safely, one exploded and fatally wounded Sgt. Brancaglione. "Doc" Carson did all he could for him, but to no avail. As several dead rabbits and some exploded mines were found in the field, it is believed that a rabbit or some other small animal had brushed against the wire of this mine, causing the pin to hang by a hair, so that the slightest touch detonated the mine. We all suffered a tremendous loss, both of an outstanding platoon sergeant and a friend to every man.
On February 21st the Third Platoon moved up to re-enforce "C" Company of our Battalion, which at that time was supporting the units breaching the Siegfried Line near Lutzkampen, Germany. For three days they aided in laying corduroy, filling craters, removing mines, and generally maintaining the vital roads leading up to and through the dragon's teeth.
The 25th of February found us moving northward again to new positions overlooking the 5iegfried Line. We went through recently reconquered St. Vith and Schonberg, billeting in Manderfeld, on the German border. St. Vith was the most completely devastated city we had ever seen. An earthquake could not have equaled the damage wrought by the gods of war. Not a house, not a building, not a tree, not a street was intact. Everywhere were signs of the First Army's terrific struggle to oust the Germans. Manderfeld is located on a high point of land extending into Germany. It commands a view of all the main defenses of the Siegfried Line. To conceal the fact that troops were being shifted in this sector, we stopped several miles from the town until after dark. The town was a little the worse for wear, and an occasional probing shell still whistled overhead. Heavy artillery positions were located all around us, and the continual flash and roar kept the buildings shaking.
The 87th Infantry Division, which we relieved here, withdrew to attack in another direction, while we held the positions. The Engineers' job here was more road maintenance. The First Platoon worked on the road from Manderfeld southwest toward Schonberg, and checked the roads east of Losheim and Hergersberg for mines. The heavy fog hanging low at that time prevented the possibilities of being shelled or observed by the enemy. The Second Platoon sent all their demolition men on patrols to blow gaps in the dragon's teeth, and also spent some time in instructing infantrymen in the use of explosives. The Third Platoon was particularly busy all during this period, as it was equipped with dump trucks. Not only were they working in CCA's area, but were also being called upon to go to the aid of CCB in maintaining supply roads. Several small patrols went out at night checking the entire area of our expected advance in support of the 87th Infantry Division.
Because the terrain offered no cover and was impassable to tanks, the attack by CCA was called off, and soon we moved to the south to join the rest of the Division just east of Prum, Germany, passing completely through the Siegfried Line, which had already been pierced in this area. On our way to Budesheim, where we arrived on the 7th of March, the Third Platoon constructed one 36-foot treadway bridge near Getheim. Sgt. Parkhurst's and Sgt. Lieberman's squads laid the treadway, while Sgt. Celani and his squad were working on the ford and approaches to the bridge. The Company moved up to the top of a hill just outside of Budesheim, where we dug in, with elements of the artillery in the same area. From this position we could see a battle about two miles away, where our infantry was trying to get out of a town and up an open hill into some woods held by the Krauts. Our artillery was laying it into them, and as we stood there watching the show, the Krauts gave out with some effective counterbattery fire, which unfortunately included our area in the general target. Most of the Company was dug in, but some of us had to sweat out a 20 minute barrage of about 100 rounds. Miraculously, even though dozens of HE rounds landed between foxholes and vehicles, no casualties resulted. About 2300 we moved to a new area so the same thing wouldn't happen at daybreak.
The next day was a busy one, with Sgt. Guillermo "Poncho" Cortez's squad of the First Platoon putting in some treadway on the road to Gerolstein and Pfeiffer's removing Riegel mines from an airstrip for artillery spotter planes. Fisher's squad of the Second Platoon went to Lissingen to lay more treadway, which wasn't needed because a by-pass had been found. However, they were shelled while sweeping a road for mines - - again with no casualties. The Third Platoon returned from road maintenance near Schwarzheim and Duppach and located billets for the entire Company in Wallersheim. After spending the night there, the various platoons moved out on very short notice to join their regular units, and the Combat Command started to move toward the 90th Division bridgehead over the Kyll River at 1100 on the 7th of March. Our orders were to reach the Rhine at Andernach, but little did we realize we would be able to do it in such a short time. The coming action was to be new to us, but it was what we were trained for and organized for: spearheading!
THE DASH FOR THE RHINE
Patton's Third Army was now ready for the dash to the Rhine, so, with his 11th and 4th Armored Divisions spearheading, the drive was on! On this drive we took a route which would allow us to reach out as far and as fast as possible, leaving small, disorganized pockets of Krauts for the infantry to clean up behind us.
With the First Platoon up front with the tanks and the Second Platoon with the infantry farther back, we rolled through town after town: Gerolstein, Kirchweiler, Dockweilcr, and on to Kelberg the first day, a distance of about 25 miles. Near Dockweiler the First Platoon came under some screaming-meemie fire, but suffered no casualties. The town of Kelberg was stubbornly defended, and was not cleared until 2200 that night. In the meantime the column was halted along the road, waiting for Kelberg to be cleared. Near Boxberg, about two miles west of Kelberg, a German self-propelled AT gun opened fire from the flank of the column, knocking out a light tank, a medium tank, our air compressor, maintenance truck, and the supply truck of the Third Platoon. The Third Platoon immediately set up a defense for an expected attack, but none materialized. No one in the Company was hurt except "Pinky" Smithers, who was suffering from concussion and was evacuated. However, that was a close shave for all concerned. In the meantime the First Platoon had moved into Kelberg in the inky darkness and assisted "A" Company of the 63rd Infantry in outposting the town. The Second and Third Platoons bivouacked in the field and manned M. G. outposts to protect the column's flanks. The only activity was several screaming-meemie volleys during the night.
The next morning the attack continued, with the Second Platoon "up front with Mauldin" and the rest of the Company back in the column a ways. Everything was running in high gear, including the Krauts, but Buch found time to pick up an American half-track abandoned by the Germans. The Second Platoon installed one treadway near Mayen in the record time of 30 minutes, under the eyes of Gen. Holbrook, who was happy as hell. The demolition men blew out the roadblock protecting the entrance to Mayen. With that completed the column moved through Mayen at top speed, trying to reach the Rhine before dark. The First Platoon got there about dark, but it was about 0330 the next day before we finally got settled in our billets, with the civilians all occupying the top floor or the basement. The Third Platoon remained in Mayen, guiding traffic over the treadway and capturing 24 Krauts and a wine cellar as extra activities. On the 9th of March the Second Platoon moved to Andernach with the 63rd Infantry to fight in clearing the town of Krauts. The rest of the Company stayed in the nearby town of Plaidt, enjoying comfortable billets, electric light, radios, running water, and so on. We did a little work clearing the highways of roadblocks and abandoned vehicles, and located a wine warehouse which kept everyone well supplied during our stay there. On the 11th of March the Company was assigned the towns of Kretz and Kruft to clear of Krauts and weapons, which was done thoroughly and enjoyed by all. Meantime the Second Platoon was in Andernach doing the same. Then the Company moved into Kruft to new and just as comfortable billets. On the 15th of March we moved to Ettringen, supposedly for a few more days of rest, fixed up lights hooked to the vehicle batteries, and generally did all we could to make the place comfortable. However, the next day we moved out to an assembly area for a new attack. On the 15th Lt. Proctor left for a pass in Paris with Pfc. Leone of the Third Platoon. Sgt. Feldman took over the First Platoon.
At 1800 on the 16th of March the Company started out from Ettringen on a blackout drive which ended in an assembly area at Dresch, where we spent one night sleeping out in the field for a change. We pulled out about 1430 the next day, being attached to the usual units, crossed the Moselle River near Bullay, and headed for the Rhine again, this time near Worms. On this drive we accomplished quite a bit of engineer work, enough for all: clearing mines and road blocks, filling in craters in the roads, and building bridges. Rather early in the morning of the 18th of March Capt. Blackburn accidentally stepped on a German Schu Mine, losing one foot and breaking the other leg. Taken care of by "Doc" Carson, who was with the nearby First Platoon, he was immediately evacuated, and Lt. McLain took over the Company temporarily. The Captain took his misfortune very calmly, and up to the time he left for the hospital he issued words of caution and suggestion.
The next day was really a hell of a day for us. The Krauts threw everything in our way, trying desperately but fruitlessly to stop our relentless drive. We were busy clearing the roads till 0330 the next morning. The Third Platoon put in a long, rock-surfaced ford, laid a treadway bridge, and cleared a road block during the afternoon, after having been the target of artillery and screaming meemies all morning. On the 19th we received a little artillery, having the First Platoon cut off in a small town by itself. Meanwhile the Second and Third Platoons put up an 84-foot treadway bridge across the Nahe River near Martinstein, also receiving heavy artillery fire at that place. The First Platoon finally got out of the town that they were forced to take cover in and met up with the other platoons. The Third Platoon took about 20 prisoners, and with them several nice pistols. With the Krauts on the run, abandoning their equipment and giving up faster than the Division MP's could handle them, the souvenir hunters had a field day. Major Mitchell from Battalion Headquarters was now commanding the Company, and about 2100 that night we moved up to join the rest of the column, which had advanced far ahead of us.
We finally got into the town of Meisenheim about 0400, where the column was already stopped, and located billets. Leaving early the next morning we carried our attack on to Monsheim. The tactical air force supporting the attack played an important part in knocking out a retreating German column, leaving the Krauts no alternative but to surrender to us. The Third Platoon was called on to remove the knocked out vehicles from the road, while the First Platoon went ahead to Monsheim and put in a treadway in record time, after clearing out a few mines. The Second Platoon found 27 Teller mines at a road intersection in Albisheim. The next day in Albisheim the Second Platoon blew open a safe and knocked down a building looking for snipers, but with no success. The Company moved into billets in Monsheim, and the road overpass, while the First went out through the area collecting and destroying mines that had been reported by other units.
It was here Capt. Ardery took over command of the Company, and Lt. Proctor returned from Paris to the First Platoon. At 1100 on the 24th of March we moved to Eimsheim, where we spent the remainder of the maintenance period. We had a good show one night as German planes attacked the bridge at nearby Oppenheim and the antiaircraft guns tried to drive them off. We also had a visit by a Red Cross Clubmobile, featuring coffee, doughnuts, and GIRLS, so we had a little party, with Don Casanova's band playing some jive. Lt. Donnell was transferred to "B" Company and S/Sgt. Meyer took over as platoon leader, a position which he held until the end of the war, and which he fulfilled in a superior manner.
On the 29th of March we moved from Eimsheim and crossed the Rhine River on the Third Army pontoon bridge at Nierstein, a short distance north of Oppenheim. The entire town and area around the bridge and river were covered by a smoke screen. We saw many ducks and other amphibious U. S. Navy equipment. Then we turned north to cross the Main River for our next attack, which was to be deep into the heart of Germany.
EAST OF THE RHINE
With the Germans' force on the Rhine broken up and disorganized, we pushed into the heart of the nation, jumping off from Hanau in a direction north and east. On the first day of the attack, March 30th, we reached Langenselbold, after meeting stiff resistance in the towns along the way. Van Shura's squad of the First Platoon installed 36 feet of treadway bridge near Langenselbold, after which we moved into town and billeted in the best houses we could find. Sgt. Lieberman's squad of the Third Platoon was left to guard the treadway overnight. The next morning they moved into the town to find the Company gone. It was six days later when they finally rejoined the unit. On March 31st the Second Platoon moved up to Lieblos with the infantry and prepared to push on into Gelnhausen, which was strongly defended by the enemy. That night Buch's squad was called upon to check a vital bridge that was suspected of being mined. The area was heavily defended by German infantry entrenched not more than 600 yds. away. Using the utmost caution, several men set up a guard, while Meyers, Buch, Platky, McAllister, and Gandy searched for wires and demolition. They successfully cut the fuses and removed over 300 Ibs. of explosive from the structure.
On Easter Sunday, April 1st, we moved out with our usual units on a back road to the north, bypassing Gelnhausen on the corridor leading up to Fulda. Following us to mop up these bypassed pockets of resistance was the 90th (Texas and Oklahoma) Infantry Division, the 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division of World War I fame, and the 71st Infantry Division. That day the First Platoon was near the head of the column. Sgt. Pfeiffer's squad removed a roadblock under sporadic rifle fire, and later swept mined sections of the road. By evening resistance had so stiffened that our route was changed. The next day we followed CCB, as they were encountering no defending forces to speak of. That day we made the tremendous advance of 65 miles, branching off from CCB's route in the afternoon and travelling some 20 miles over rough roads into the town of Reichenheim, cutting the main supply road for the garrison of Fulda. The following day we advanced 25 miles, overrunning an enemy prisoner hospital at Ober Massfeld, where we released about 300 American and British prisoners of war. The liberated prisoners were almost overcome with joy, and raised a makeshift American flag even before the Wehrmacht had been cleared from the town. Captain Ardery went down to a nearby bridge to check it, and after firing a few well aimed shots from his carbine, came back with a bag of three nerve-shaken Krauts armed with machine pistols.
Buch and his squad had dropped out of the column because of motor trouble, and before they could catch up ran into an ambush of two 75mm AT guns and two or more companies of infantry. Their half-track was maneuvered by driver T/5 Bullock, who successfully avoided the shells from the AT guns, although the trailer, loaded with "beaucoup" souvenirs, was captured. Pvt. Platky was wounded by rifle fire and was helped into the track by other members of the squad. Pvt. McGuirk went up the hill a ways and was knocked unconscious by a shell fragment. The rest of the squad could not find him, and was forced to withdraw. McGuirk was captured, but was released 10 days later by the 16th Cavalry Group. Buch's squad then went through a hectic two weeks of motor and column trouble before finally catching up with the Company.
Meanwhile, on April 2nd, the First and Third Platoons started an infantry attack up a wooded hill, but were called back just before tackling enemy machine-gun positions. That night the Second Squad of the First Platoon moved to join Task Force Cunningham in a town to the east. The next day the First Platoon went into strongly defended Suhl with the 42nd Tanks, the Second Platoon moved into a town to the north, and the Third Platoon, plus a Tank Destroyer platoon, comprising Task Force Ardery, bore south to take the town of Altendambach. The next day the Company assembled in Suhl in comfortable billets, and for the next six days guarded prisoners and "captured" souvenirs.
On the 6th of April the First Platoon moved out with Task Force Pickett, removing three abatis (fallen-tree road blocks) during the day, and fought its way through dense woods and up rough hills under direct rocket and small-arms fire. That night a small holding force was left on the front line, while the remainder withdrew into the town of Goldlauter, where Task Force Proctor (First Platoon and one TD Platoon) defended the southern part of the town during the night. The next day the First Platoon withdrew into Suhl, and the Third Platoon moved to Goldlauter, where Salsman and his gang organized the town Burgomeister with skill and professionalsm. Later the Company again assembled in Suhl to move out with the Combat Command to the south.
At 0530 on the 7th of April the Third Platoon moved out toward Schleusingen to clear a road block for the cavalry, which was supposed to be occupying the town. Not being informed that the cavalry had been forced to leave the town by an enemy counter-attack, they ran into the German defenses with no warning at 0700. They received mortar and burp-gun fire mainly. By dismounting hurriedly and deploying to return the fire with their machine guns, bazookas, and rifles, they had the enemy pinned down for a time, but soon began to receive heavier flanking fire which made their position in an open field untenable. The drivers, Edwards, Salsman, Faulkner, and Varn, showed remarkable courage in turning their vehicles around under fire. Under cover of the machine guns, the platoon loaded up, just as the enemy, about one company in strength, made a bayonet assault in an attempt to prevent the platoon's escape. The vehicles all got away. The peep driver, Reese, and two passengers, Heiser and Allison, were hit by enemy fire while escaping. They checked up back in Olstadt and accounted for twenty-three men in the vehicles, seven in the peep, and five who came out on foot, which left nine men missing. After making attempts to locate the missing men, they discovered that Zoradi, Meyers, and Mirabal had been killed. Celani, Leone, Test, Jovich, Tuggy, and Dinsmore were still missing. The platoon then joined the Company. T/5 Zoradi is one not to be forgotten by the men of this Company. He gave his life so the remainder of the platoon could escape. When he was found the next morning, he was lying across his machine gun, which he kept firing, even though mortally wounded. The entire Company bowed their heads in tribute to a gallant soldier and a buddy to all.
In the meantime the First Platoon had gone to Theimar with Task Force Ahee and stayed there overnight, assisting in the defense of the town. The rest of the Company moved on into Hildburghausen that night. The Second Platoon laid a treadway bridge on the way and removed three roadblocks in the town.
The next day the First Platoon came down from Theimar and assisted in clearing Hildburghausen town. They then moved into some swell billets for about two hours before being alerted to move out with Task Force Pickett to take the town of Bernhardsgereuth. On the way they let a tank-dozer clear a roadblock for them, and then laid a thirty-six foot treadway bridge just before receiving some artillery fire. They assisted in the out-posting of the town, as usual. At the same time, one squad of the Second Platoon was guarding a treadway bridge in Hildburghausen, when a single Tiger tank, with some Kraut infantry, appeared from the woods to make a counter attack, but was beaten off after hitting a Tank Destroyer and disabling two vehicles of the Second Platoon.
The next day the First Platoon, which had returned from Bernshardsgereuth, moved out at 0600 with a troop of the 41st Cavalry, and was followed in one hour by the rest of the Command. About twelve miles out, after moving safely through a heavy fog, the cavalry ran into strong resistance, and stopped to hold what they had until the main body came up. They were saved from a three-hundred man counter-attack by the timely arrival of four P-47s. After these Krauts had been forced to withdraw, the cavalry moved on from Oberlauter to Wolsbach, where the First Platoon put in a treadway and then returned to Oberlauter to outpost the artillery, in conjunction with the Third Platoon. The Second stayed in Wolsbach, guarding the treadway. The next day, during which we did not move, the city of Coburg surrendered to us after a heavy artillery and air bombardment. At 1800 that day we moved again, the First Platoon to join the cavalry in Monchroden and the rest of the Company to new homes on the outskirts of Coburg.
The next morning the First Platoon moved out for Kronach. The Second started the day by laying treadway, and later removed a roadblock by blowing out key logs and skidding the rest. Kronach is a very old city. Castles and forts in the town and on the surrounding hills were built in the 14th Century. A few old buildings were burning furiously in the center of town when we arrived.
The following day the First Platoon, again with the cavalry, moved on towards Kulmbach. The main body passed through the Cavalry early, and the Second Platoon sent Fisher's and Schnable's squads to clear several road blocks on the outskirts of the city, while Buch's squad removed 600 Ibs. of demolitions from a railroad bridge near the center of town. Then the First Platoon, working with the cavalry, turned east and traveled to Unter Steinach, where they put in 48 feet of treadway. Late in the afternoon the rest of the Company joined them there for a stay of several days. While here Brigadier General Holbrook, Commanding General of CCA, made an inspection of the Company.
On the 18th of April the Company moved out with the Combat Command on a nontactical march to Neudressenfeld, a small town just north of Bayreuth. Early the next morning we moved through the city of Wagnerian fame. This time the Second Platoon was riding with the cavalry, while the First Platoon was attached to the 22nd Tanks, who had then replaced the 42nd Tanks in the Command. Before reaching our objective town for that day, Grafenwohr, the First Platoon laid 48 feet of treadway under sporadic sniper fire. One of the bridge trucks was hit, but luckily no one was wounded. Then the Platoon was assigned two wooded areas on the edge of town to clear of the enemy. A total of 16 prisoners was taken in the encounter. During this day and the following day the Second Platoon moved with the cavalry, taking, Huttin, Kaltenbrunn, and Freching. They were ambushed by a German force along a road, but in the quick action that followed succeeded in taking 7 prisoners and killing 3, all armed with machine pistols and panzerfausts.
On the 21st, the Second Platoon moved out with the cavalry at 1300 for Neustadt. where they stayed for the night. The next day they preceded the Combat Command through Weiden, and on to Wernburg and Nabburg. Loder, Schnable, Bullock, and Parks captured 48 enemy soldiers in the cellar of a large factory. Our column was strafed by Messerschmidt IO9'S, but none of our vehicles were damaged. Meanwhile the First Platoon put in 72 feet of treadway on an existing bridge. Later in the day the Third Platoon added to it to make a total of 108 feet. The First Squad of the Third Platoon also removed half a ton of explosives from another bridge.
On the 23rd a battalion of 1500 Hungarians surrendered. They marched in good order, with flags flying and supply train following. We moved on to Cham, where we had a brief but sharp fight on the edge of town. Here we released several hundred American prisoners, among them Tuggy, Jovich, and Leone. Everyone was overjoyed to see them, as we feared they might, have been killed. The main body of CCA stayed in Cham for the night, but the cavalry and the Second Platoon went a few miles farther on and stayed in Bodenmais. There, working by moonlight, they removed the biggest abatis encountered on the entire drive. About 30 trees, each one three feet in diameter were felled across the road. After a delay of an hour and a half they went on to Bodenmais, which lay at the foot of some snow-capped peaks. The city, unlike the others encountered on our drive, was not blacked out, a strange sight for night-accustomed eyes.
On the 26th, as we approached Freyung, we encountered a blown bridge with a gap too long to span with treadway, so we prepared a ford, with parts of the First and Third Platoons building a 200-yd. plank road. Several half-tracks succeeded in crossing a flimsy bridge on a side road, but the structure collapsed under the heavy load. As our tanks and heavy equipment started crossing the ford, Col. Inge, our Battalion Commander, reported that a usable bridge had been located by reconnaissance about two miles downstream. Van Shura's squad was dispatched with a brockway to re-enforce this bridge. A little while later Col. Inge, Capt. Ardery, Lt. Proctor, and four Messerschmidts arrived at the site simultaneously. The planes did a thorough job of strafing and knocked out T/5 Gillam's peep. Col. Inge was shot through the wrist and burned around the head by the exploding 20-mm. shells.
When this crossing was completed the First and Third Platoons moved on to Grainet, where the First joined a task force pushing on to the Austrian border. Late in the evening they returned to Grainet and joined the rest of the Company in their billets. During the stay in Grainet the Luftwaffe played its swan song, and there were enemy planes in the air most of the time. Every time one would venture within range, the 50-caliber machine guns on every vehicle in the Command would augment the anti-aircraft units in the vicinity to fill the sky with fiery tracers. A sizable toll of enemy planes was taken by our Command alone. The Second Platoon went on two cavalry patrols into Czechoslovakia, encountering a handful of Krauts.
On April 28th the Second moved to Walloburg, and on to Kasburg the next day, meeting heavy resistance on the Austrian border and withdrawing to outpost Sonnen. That day the rest of the Company moved toward the Austrian border, encountering only sniper fire most of the way. At Wegscheid, one mile from the border, the Krauts put up fierce resistance, knocking out six of our tanks. The Command withdrew into the woods, and while the infantry surrounded the town, the artillery laid siege to it. Captain Ardery was wounded in the hand by a piece of shrapnel, but refused to be evacuated with the wound. Just before our First Platoon withdrew from their forward positions some of our own artillery hit in the trees, wounding Davidson, Davis, and Witchey. Late that night we cautiously entered the burning town, setting up outposts along the southern edge of it. T/4 Heim and T/5 O'Brien, in search of a dry place to sleep, captured a Kraut AT-gun crew of 12 men in the basement of an outlying building. Most of the Company bivouacked in the fields, as the buildings were nearly all demolished. The night was cold and snowy, and was lit up with the red glow of the countless fires.
On May 1st we crossed the Austrian border in force, pushing almost to Rohrbach and encountering fairly stiff resistance from 20-mm. and 88-mm. anti-aircraft cannons. Intelligence reports had indicated the presence of some 20 of the smaller guns and 1O 88's in Wegscheid. Now we had them on the run, and kept whittling down the number opposing us until finally all were accounted for. The Third Platoon destroyed several of the guns with explosives, and the Second moved from Sonnen to Staloinger, encountering fierce infantry resistance, during which Able was hit in the leg. On the 2nd of May we moved to Neufelden, where the bridges across the Muhl River were very effectively demolished. A ford was made across the river in a few hours by the Company, with the aid of the bulldozer, operated by "Bill" Williams. The First Platoon blew up a dam downstream from the ford, lowering the water level so that the vehicles could make it through. A high upstream dam was found suitable for a peep crossing and Sgt. Cortez's squad was dispached to fix up the approaches. Their half-track slipped off the narrow road, however, and very nearly turned over. An harrassing enemy plane flew low over the site, but fortunately neither bombed nor strafed our unit.
By the next morning all vehicles of the Command were over the ford, and the lead task force moved out along the road to Linz. Near Rottenegg a blown bridge was by-passed by a winding route through apple orchards. The First and Third Platoons went into Rottenegg along with Company Headquarters. Later on the First went into Gramastetten with the 22nd Tanks, where they helped capture another bridge after a hot fight. All parts of the Company received heavy artillery fire throughout the day. The only casualty was Poole, who was hit in the foot by a piece of shrapnel.
On the 5th of May the Command moved to the northeast in a flanking movement around Linz, the third largest city in Austria. Led by the cavalry and our Second Platoon, the Command roared into the city and secured the bridges across the Danube before the enemy had a chance to destroy them. The First and Second Platoons removed 1500 lbs. of explosives from the two spans, one of which was a six-lane highway bridge. After a brief stay in Linz the Company, minus the First Platoon, moved to Reichenau, a town about ten miles northeast of Linz. The First Platoon went to Hellmonsodt, a nearby village. From these positions the Company furnished individual squads for patrols attempting to contact the Russian forces pushing up the Danube from the east. In the area north of Linz the Second Platoon captured 500 prisoners. 24 105mm. guns, a few nebelwerfer projectors, and several tanks loaded on flat cars. On May 8th the Company moved into Linz to join the rest of the Battalion for the first time since leaving Camp Sissone, in France. With the noise of battle gone, we settled down to the old routine of garrison duty.
This brings us to the victorious conclusion of the history of Co. "A", 56th Armored Engineer Battalion, in the European Theatre of Operations. It is a record in keeping with the highest traditions of the Army of the United States. Regardless of what the future may bung, the men of this Company can look back with satisfaction on the part they played in freeing the world of one of the most vicious evils of all time. This account is not an attempt to do justice to all who earned it. There are countless incidents of heroism and bravery that will forever remain unprinted. It is our hope that in years to come this book will serve as a tribute to those of us who died. The memory of their sacrifice will always inspire us to achieve higher goals in a free and greater America.Back to "Our History"