Unit History of the
81st Chemical Mortar Battalion
I. Activation and Basic Training
II. Maneuvers and Training in the U.S.
III. Staging and Overseas Movement
IV. England and the Assault Training Center
V. Marshalling and Embarkation
VI. Invasion and the Beachhead
VII. The Battle of the Hedgerows
VIII. The St. Lo Breakthrough
IX. The March to Paris
X. On to the Siegfried Line
XI. The Attack on the Metz Fortress
XII. Taking and Holding the Saar Valley
XIII. The Saar-Moselle Triangle
XIV. The Drive to the Rhine
XV. Mop Up to Austria
This booklet is dedicated to the forty-one officers and men of the Eighty-First Chemical Mortar Battalion who made the supreme sacrifice.
To give a thorough account of the accomplishments of the Eighty-First Chemical Mortar Battalion would take thousands of pages. To detail the heroic deeds and meritorious service of the gallant officers and men of the Eighty-First would take more thousands of pages. A booklet the size of this could be written about each enlisted man and each officer. It is believed the history is concise, yet shows the battalion to have lived up to its motto, "Equal To The Task."
Jack W. Lipphardt
Lt Col, CWS
I. Activation and Basic Training
The story of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion does not start back in the trusty annals of early American history. Insofar as antiquity and tradition are concerned, it is conspicuously new, but the few years since its activation have been packed with accomplishment, heroism, and battle experience in keeping with the highest traditions of any unit in the United States Army. The 81st was formed when the country was faced with the necessity of creating a highly trained, efficient army in a minimum of time.
The 81st Chemical Battalion (Motorized) was activated by GO #22, 25 April 1942, Hq Fort D.A. Russell, Texas, pursuant to GO #39, 14 April 1942, Hq Third Army, San Antonio, Texas, and War Department letter, 25 March 1942. Thus was born the 81st, without fanfare, but with quiet purpose. It was up to the battalion to write its own history and these pages will show how well the job was done.
The original cadre of the battalion was specified in a special order from Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, dated 19 April 1942, ordering five officers and 76 enlisted men to report to Fort D.A. Russell for duty. Lt. Col. Thomas H. James, CWS, was assigned to the battalion as battalion commander.
Surprising as it may seem after three years and the usual drifting, transferring, and evacuation of personnel, a fair number of the original cadre were still with the battalion at the end of the war in Europe.
These "old timers" are listed below:
Name Rank at Activation Present Rank Jack W. Lipphardt 1st Lt Lt Col Ernest G. McDaniel 2d Lt Captain Herbert F. Levy 2d Lt Captain Harold L. Hausman 2d Lt Major John W. Bundy Master Sgt 1st Lt Charles S. Gardner Pvt 1st Lt Walter R. Young Pvt 1st Lt Edwin E. Johnson Corporal Tech Sgt Rupert A. Price Staff Sgt 1st Sgt Leonard P. Gibbs Sgt 1st Sgt Oliver H. Fisher Corporal PFC Paul A. Sellars Pvt Staff Sgt Steven A. Emery Pvt Master Sgt Victor F. Minchow Pvt Master Sgt Rudolph A. Hilland Tec 4 Tec 5 Harry E. Randall Corporal Master Sgt Timothy J. Sweeney Corporal PFC Charles H. Miller Pvt Tec 4 John Kuchmy Pvt Tec 5 John H. Yungclas Pvt Tec 4 Joseph E. Clapham Pvt Tech Sgt Frank Florio Pvt 1st Sgt Toney Sirianni Pvt Tec 4 Mike Carahalios Pvt Staff Sgt George A. Haase Pvt Staff Sgt Michael A. Martino Pvt Staff Sgt Alfred Paparelli Pvt Staff Sgt Theodore F. Shulski Pvt Tec 5
Lt Col Thomas H. James assumed command of the 81st Chemical Battalion by its first general order, dated April 26, 1942. A West Pointer and a Regular Army officer of wide and varied experience, he immediately set to work organizing the battalion. To him and to the able officers and men aiding him is due the credit for bringing the organization to the peak of combat efficiency and morale it attained by the time it was first committed to battle. The day that Col James assumed command the cadre was assigned to the various companies, thus creating the framework upon which the four letter companies and headquarters were built after the arrival of additional personnel.
Fort D.A. Russell, the birthplace of the 81st and where it experienced its growing pains, is situated just outside of Marfa, Texas, in the heart of the Big Bend Country. The fort was an old one, having been a cavalry post of the Border Patrol. Marfa itself was a little cattle town with a big sense of hospitality and a bit of Old Mexico. The Paisano Hotel, the Marfa Joy, the Crewes and Jimmy's Place will strike a familiar, pleasant note to all who experience their hospitality. Mexico wasn't many miles away and Ojinaga and Juarez drew many visitors from the 81st in search of Mexican atmosphere. The first impression of Fort D.A. Russell and the surrounding territory was that of vast waste and plenty of space, without a tree or a really green blade of grass for miles around, but soon the charms of the plains, the rugged beauty, mellow sunlight, and glorious nights won over. Surrounding the fort was a range of small mountains, the Smith Hills, and off in the distance could be seen the landmark of the country, Cathedral Mountain.
In May, approximately 75 men joined the battalion, coming from all over the country, and on June 9 approximately 250 men came from Fort Dix. Between June and October small groups were assigned until October 17 when Mississippi descended on us. About 500 men from the land of turnip greens and cornbread were assigned to the battalion without any previous basic training. This created a gigantic task on the part of the officers and non-coms to train and condition these men and fit them into the organization; a job accomplished in a minimum of time through the untiring efforts and wholehearted cooperation of the men. The battalion to this day consists largely of those Mississippi lads, although they could not be recognized as the raw, green recruits of those days. Today, they are seasoned veterans, proven in battle, equal to any combat soldiers in the Army.
Equipment and training aids were scarce and inadequate in those days, but American ingenuity at improvising when equipment was lacking paid dividends. The battalion at first was equipped with .45 cal. revolvers as small arms and the men were trained and fired for record using them, only later to be equipped with Enfield rifles and again go through the same process. Despite the antiquated weapons, nearly all qualified and many made sharpshooter and expert.
From activation until November of that year, the 81st Chemical Battalion was a battalion without mortars. Although it was discouraging not to have the basic weapons to work with, the time was well spent in physical conditioning, the school of the soldier, identification of chemical agents, field marches, field hygiene, small arms training, etc. Few will forget the obstacle course; but then also memorable were the swimming parties at Balmorhea and the company beer parties. Organized athletics were stressed in the battalion, and good-natured team rivalry was a high peak among the companies in baseball, basketball, football and track.
The hikes to Smith Hills and Cathedral Mountain over the hot, rough, dusty caliche will be remembered by all. The bivouacs at Smith Hills, with the night patrolling exercises, were all too realistic to some who were the victims of over-enthusiastic patrols looking for prisoners.
In September the mortar carts arrived, but still no mortars. It afforded a good deal of amusement to have to drag the carts over hill and dale for miles just to "get the feel of it." In October the mortars arrived and everyone's morale went up. We finally had our guns! From then on the bulk of the time was spent in mortar drill, care and cleaning of the mortar, and the tactics and technique of firing. Dry run followed dry run and now everyone wondered if we were ever going to fire a live round. Gunner examinations followed soon after, and the results were excellent.
In January 1943 the anticipated day came. A few rounds were released to the battalion and everyone was in a dither as to who would fire the first round. The signal honor fell to C Company, and PFC Place was the lucky man to drop the round down the barrel while the battalion waited with bated breath.
A general idea as to the difficulties encountered due to lack of training equipment can be had when one considers that for a long period of time the battalion's ammunition dump contained exactly 25 rounds of FS for training purposes.
The really big event of the firing in Texas was the battalion shoot at Turner's Ranch in February 1943, when the outfit was given permission to fire up all ammunition on hand. On this occasion the battalion took up prepared positions the night before and at dawn all mortars in the battalion fired what was then considered an enormous number of rounds of WP and FS; even the now-forgotten Livens projectors were fired. Many will remember digging the emplacements for those Livens in the hard, oh so hard, Texas soil that night. The colonel, there on an inspection tour, commended Col James on the accuracy and efficiency of the firing.
Soon after, the battalion was alerted for departure from Texas for participation in Louisiana maneuvers.
On April 2, 1943, the first contingent of the battalion left Fort D.A. Russell for Leesville, Louisiana, and on the following day the rest of the battalion followed. The grand send-off the people of Marfa gave will long be remembered by those present. They were truly sorry to see us go. The 81st had made a wonderful impression on them and had gained many friends. A military band from the airfield nearby serenaded the train as it left the station. The first phase of our military career was over, and ahead of us lay the task of preparing ourselves for combat by vigorous operations in the field.
II. Maneuvers and Training in the U.S.
The 81st Chemical Battalion arrived at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on April 5, 1943, where it participated in maneuvers in conjunction with the 85th Division until May 4. The battalion gained much experience in the reconnaissance, selection and occupation of mortar positions and in the tactical employment of mortars in support of an infantry division. This was its first experience in operating with troops other than its own. Probably the biggest problem during these operations was that of supply and mess. Many times the companies "sweated out" the mess trucks, but in most instances, the "chow" came through. This was also the unit's first experience at living in the field for a prolonged period, and the chiggers, ticks, "piney woods rooters," snakes, and rain torrents of it all did their best to make it an arduous one.
The rumors flew wide and free from every latrine in the area, especially after a showdown inspection in which all equipment was brought up to combat strength and serviceability, but "we cooled off" for a while.
For the battalion, Louisiana maneuvers constituted a good shakedown. It demonstrated our limitations and possibilities, and the things that must be accomplished before the peak of efficiency could be reached. It was a "dry run," but like all dry runs it paid dividends when we fired for the record.
It was in Louisiana on Easter Sunday that the battalion held its first anniversary and Col. James presented to the unit, in a colorful ceremony, its battalion colors on which was portrayed its insignia and motto. Col. James devised the insignia while the battalion was stationed at Texas. The shield has a field of blue and gold, signifying the colors of the Chemical Warfare Service. A spouting volcano, a replica of Cathedral Mountain, which is the outstanding landmark for miles around Fort D.A. Russell, is rampant on a golden background. The spout of smoke and flame was added to signify our future mission of smoking and burning the enemy. Subjacent to this is the Lone Star of Texas on a field of blue. Below the shield is a scroll bearing the battalion's motto, "Equal to the Task," picked from many submitted to Col. James. To Lt. Bundy (then M/Sgt) goes the credit for devising that phrase. How prophetic those words were will be proven in the pages to follow.
Amphibious Maneuvers at Camp Gordon Johnston, Florida
On May 6, 1943, the 81st arrived at Camp Gordon Johnston, Carrabelle, Florida, for participation in amphibious commando and physical training. The battalion was attached to the 28th Division for administrative purposes during its stay there. The program was vigorous, hazardous and exciting, and several fell by the wayside due to the rapid pace and constant exertion under the hot, tropical Florida sun.
The program consisted of combat swinging, speed marches, unorthodox exercises (and we do mean unorthodox), street fighting, Judo, hand-to-hand fighting, use of knife and bayonet, cargo net practice on mock-ups, loading and unloading in small craft, demolitions, and the use of explosives. The battalion also had its first taste of the infiltration course at this time. The attack on Schicklgruber village with live ammunition furnished plenty of excitement and firsthand experience in street fighting and battle sounds.
Trips to Tallahassee, beach parties, and other extra-curricular activities took the curse off this particular period, but no one was sorry when orders came to leave the place that Winchell had dubbed "The Alcatraz of the Army." Every man that came through that training will admit, however, that he was in better physical shape for it. The battalion departed from this station on June 9-10, 1943.
Camp Pickett, Virginia
On June 12, 1943, the 81st Chemical Battalion arrived at Camp Pickett, Virginia, where it was stationed until October 14 of that year. During that time, the battalion was trained in the use of the Springfield rifle, the carbine, and the BAR, firing for record in all these weapons, and the old Enfields were finally turned in. It was at Camp Pickett that the battalion fired its first rounds of HE and everyone was more than pleased with the wallop it packed. A good deal of time was spent in mortar drill, bringing the squads, platoons, and companies to a high degree of efficiency.
Many of the personnel found accommodations in nearby towns and brought their wives there to be near them. Practically every officer and man was given a leave or furlough during the five months that the battalion was stationed there.
During the months of August and September, the battalion participated in several amphibious maneuvers with the 28th Division at Camp Bradford, Norfolk Naval Base, Virginia, and B Company spent two weeks on mountain maneuvers in West Virginia. In the course of training at the amphibious base the battalion received instruction and training in the use and adjustment of life belts, and in the purposes and characteristics of various types of landing crafts. Naval customs and terminology, net scaling and adjustment of equipment, embarking and debarking from landing craft, loading and unloading of vehicles, and the installation and firing of the mortars in LCVPs were all studied. Later on, the battalion, attached to the 28th Division, engaged in the practice assault on the "Solomon Islands" in Chesapeake Bay. For many members of the battalion this was the first experience with sea travel, and as a result, a few cases of mal-de-mer were experienced. For its ship-to-shore operation the battalion did an excellent job. This was also the battalion's first experience with C and K rations, and actually we thought they were good.
Company B, attached to the 109th Infantry of the 28th Division, spent a vigorous two weeks in the vicinity of Elkins, West Virginia, participating in mountain maneuvers. The long hard pulls, and hand-carrying the mortars up those steep mountains, taxed the energy of everybody, but a different method of moving equipment was learned.
On August 13, 1943, D Company was detached from the battalion for overseas duty. The first contingent of the outfit was on its way. Many envied them, others were damned glad it wasn't their company, but all wished them Godspeed. Eight months were to go by before they rejoined the battalion.
The battalion (less Company D) was alerted for overseas shipment on September 30, 1943, and at once plunged into the feverish activity of its P.O.M. (Preparation for Overseas Movement). All leaves and furloughs were cancelled, and censorship and security regulations were explained to the men.
On October 14, 1943, after Col. James' memorable "This Is It" speech, the battalion departed from Camp Pickett, Virginia, for the P.O.E. staging area at Camp Shanks, New York.
III. Staging and Overseas Movement
The battalion arrived at Camp Shanks on Friday, October 15, 1943. Here the unit was processed, every item of equipment checked for serviceability, and all excess personal belongings discarded.
Every officer and man was given a thorough last-minute physical inspection (which consisted of counting the number of arms, legs and eyes a person possessed). All organizational equipment had been turned in at Pickett and new equipment was to be reissued on the other side. From this it was deduced it was not to be a "shore to shore" operation. Since the unit was alerted shortly after arrival at Shanks, it was restricted to the immediate area for the duration of its stay there. Just 45 minutes from Broadway, and not a thing could be done about it! One man could see his home from Camp Shanks. That really hurt. All the unit censors were kept busy deleting and cutting up letters, but finally the word came.
On October 20, 1943, the battalion embarked on the Capetown Castle, a British ship formerly used on the South African run. The lights of New York, crossing the river on the ferry, the Red Cross doughnut girls, and the band at the docks, played on personal sentiments. Everyone was quiet and tense until the band started playing "Dixie" and then every Rebel throat in the battalion, plus a few renegade Yankees, took up the tune while marching up the gangplank, loaded down with what seemed to be a ton of equipment.
The following day, October 21, 1943, after everyone had been assigned quarters, the Capetown Castle steamed out of New York harbor. Many of the men missed their last chance to look at the "Old Lady with the Torch" because the decks were cleared, but those who did wondered when they would see her again.
The ship wasn't long at sea before boat drills were started. It was difficult to get used to wearing life belts at all times. Crap games started everywhere. Musical instruments soon appeared and close harmony on the deck at night was customary. It was good to see the old battlewagon, the Texas, and off on the horizon various cruisers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts. The nearest ships to the Capetown Castle in the convoy were the Empress of Australia and Monarch of Bermuda. One of these was loaded with American nurses. So near and yet so far! The latrine situation was quite a problem, and a helmet was used for a purpose other than the one for which it was intended.
Catalina flying boats and naval blimps escorted us for several days until we got well out to sea. The route followed was the southern one, long and circuitous, but safe. The constant zigzagging of the course of the ship was difficult to become accustomed to at first, and a few cases of seasickness resulted. Despite all orders prohibiting the same, rumors flew fast and furious. It was later learned, after the voyage was over, that the U.S.S. Murphy, one of the ships in the convoy, had collided with another ship, resulting in the Murphy being cut in half. The bow section was lost, but the stern section made it back to New York. The danger of submarine attack was ever present, but it did not hinder one bit the harmony sessions, crap games, pseudo-rumors, and high morale.
The trip was a long one, taking in all 11 days. Company D, which had left in August, was fortunate to be sent over in the Queen Elizabeth which traveled alone, without escort of any kind, due to her speed; she made the trip in five days.
On November 2, 1943, the Capetown Castle docked at Liverpool, England, amidst the music of an English regimental band and the cheering and waving of a mixed crowd, including ATS girls, soldiers, and the inevitable American MPs. Everyone lined the rails and started throwing cigarettes, chocolate, money, and sundry articles to the ATS girls, but in many cases, the aim was poor and it afforded a great bit of amusement to see the mad scramble for it. Over the public address system the new arrivals were told how to behave in England and a little bit of what to expect there. One particular incident stands out: a Scottish officer wearing kilts walked down the dock, and the clamor of the catcalls, whistling, and yoo-hoos was deafening. The battalion disembarked on November 3 and entrained on the curious little English railroad cars that were to carry us to Penkridge, Staffordshire, arriving that afternoon. Part of the battalion had an opportunity to see the havoc of the blitz in Liverpool.
The battalion was finally overseas!
IV. England and the Assault Training Center
The winter months of 1943-1944 were spent at Penkridge, Staffordshire, in the Midlands country of England, by all companies of the battalion except D Company. During this time, the unit was re-equipped with all its organizational equipment and was kept in shape by a varied program of exercises and many hikes to nearby Cannock Chase. Penkridge was a sleepy English village and at first the natives didn't know quite what to make of the "Yanks," but when the civilians found out that Americans weren't all gangsters and that they might sleep safely in their beds at night, they became quite friendly and hospitable. The cultural points of interest were Penkridge Church, Litchfield Cathedral, and Hatherton Hall. For those interested in culture of a lighter vein, Civic Hall at Wolverhampton, the pubs at Stafford, Cannock, and other neighboring towns, served to keep all amused. "You cawn't miss it," "Any gum, chum," "Time please, gentlemen," became familiar phrases, and despite the protests that it was awful stuff, copious quantities of "Mild and Bitter" were consumed.
All during this period, D Company was at the famous ATC (Assault Training Center) near Ilfracombe, North Devon, acting as school troops. It was not relieved from this duty until April 1, 1944, at which time it rejoined the battalion.
From December 1943, through April 1944, each company of the battalion, including parts of headquarters, participated in intensive amphibious and assault exercises at the ATC and along the western and southern coasts of England. Few who participated will forget the regimental landings, firing from LCVPs, the company assault problems, the "hedgehog" at the Assault Training Center, or the exercises Duck 1 and 2, and exercises Fox and Fabius. It was learned later that enemy "E" boats were operating in that vicinity at the time. All these problems were considered rough, but it was found later that they were child's play compared to actual combat.
The battalion was reorganized under a new Table of Organization on February 14, 1944, and the 376 men rendered surplus by this reorganization were transferred in grade to the 92nd Chemical Battalion then being formed. The members of the unit were sorry to see so many of their friends leave, and the men concerned hated to go, but it was a necessary action.
In March the battalion left Penkridge for Poole, Dorset, where it was rejoined on April 1, 1944, by D Company. All companies participated in the AA firing at Newquay with the .50 cal. machine gun, and in intensive mortar shoots at Exmoor range in North Devon and at Canford Heath near Poole. However, despite the intensive training program carried out by the battalion during this period, all personnel had sufficient time for recreation. Most of them managed to get to London and many other places of interest on short passes. The foggy weather gave birth to the famous story that England was kept afloat by barrage balloons, but the blackouts seemed to enhance sociability rather than kill it. Many English friends were made, and two men asked for and received permission to marry English girls.
On February 15 the battalion was attached to V Corps of the First United States Army. The battalion was further attached to the 1st Infantry Division on April 20, 1944. It was about this time that the field artillery method of observation and firing was adopted. Its advantages over the old mortar methods were soon proven in combat.
V. Marshaling and Embarkation
After a little more than six months of intensive preparation following its arrival in the United Kingdom, the battalion was alerted on May 12, 1944, for what proved to be the greatest event in modern times the invasion of Europe.
Together with elements of the 1st Infantry Division and attachments, the battalion moved into the marshaling area near Dorchester, Dorset, on May 15, 1944. The assault group of this battalion was composed of 437 officers and men and 35 vehicles. Once in the marshaling area, it was held incommunicado from the outside world. The residual elements were moved to Bournemouth, Hants at this time, to join other residual elements of the 1st Division. Later the lead echelon was moved to Falmouth for embarkation and the initial build-up (overstrength) was moved to Tiverton for shipment so as to arrive in France and join the forward echelon on D plus 5.
The entire assault echelon was moved to Camp D-11, where it remained as a battalion until Sunday, May 28.
During this time, everyone, from the battalion commander to the private of the line, was briefed on the operation. Complete and comprehensive relief maps, recent aerial photographs, and the latest intelligence reports were used, so that every detail of terrain, location of enemy installations and underwater obstacles, etc., was learned with painstaking accuracy. Col. James gave what later proved to be his last talk to us, expressing complete confidence in our ability to live up to the words "Equal to the Task."
On this date, the assault echelon was broken up and attached to two combat teams the 16th and 116th. Companies A and C were attached to the 16th CT, made up of the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division and attached units; B and D Companies to the 116th CT, made up of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division plus attachments; and battalion headquarters to the 1st Division Headquarters. Company A then moved to Camp D4 and D8, B to D1, C to D10, D to D1, and battalion headquarters to D5.
Beginning on June 1 and continuing through June 2, the entire assault echelon was moved to Weymouth harbor where it embarked on various craft, including APAs, an LSI, and LSTs. Company A was assigned to the SS Henrico, an APA; B Company to a British APA, the Empire Javelin; C Company to the Empire Anvil, a British LSI; D Company to the USS Charles Carrol; and Headquarters Company to the LST 83. The rear echelons of the various companies embarked at a later date in two Liberty ships, the Lucille Stone and Louis Kossuth. After leaving the marshaling areas, the battalion commander had no further contact with any of his companies until the lading on bloody Omaha Beach on D-Day. In all, the assault groups spent 96 hours on the choppy waters of the Channel.
After the assault groups had embarked, it was announced that D-Day would be June 5, but later an announcement was flashed that D-Day had been postponed 24 hours due to bad weather off the coast of Normandy. H-Hour was to be at 0630 hours, June 6, 1944. It was later learned that it had to be then or be postponed at least a month. What a decision to rest on the shoulders of one man! Yet a more capable man than our Supreme Commander, General "Ike", would be difficult to find.
On the afternoon of June 5, one by one the craft slipped out from Weymouth harbor to assemble with similar groups somewhere in the Channel. The immensity of this mighty invasion fleet was awe-inspiring to everyone who participated in General Bradley's "greatest show on earth." Here was the armed might of the "decadent democracies" spread out as far as the eye could see. The dry runs were over; this was the record shoot, testing whether a free people could hope to meet and vanquish the regimented power of a brutal dictatorship. It was truly to be a "battle of the giants."
VI. Invasion and the Beachhead
Just before dawn on June 6, as the armada approached the coast of Normandy, bright, lightning-like flashes could be seen illuminating the whole horizon. The arrival of the mightiest convoy that man had ever assembled for a single operation was heralded by a thunderous rumble directly to the front. This was the initial air and sea bombardment laid down on Omaha Beach early that day in an effort to neutralize or soften up the enemy's prepared positions. Despite the immensity of this preparation and the gigantic losses inflicted on the enemy, the fighting forces were to learn soon enough that they would yet have to pay heavily to gain that little strip of France.
Approximately 15 miles from shore the larger craft hove to, and at 0430 all companies transferred their men and mortars to LCVPs. As the men clambered down the cargo nets in the murky, false dawn, the Navy wished them Godspeed, and the craft shoved off from the mother ships into a choppy sea for the rendezvous areas several hundred yards offshore. Here they circled, endlessly it seemed, causing the boat teams to be wet to the skin and, in many cases, violently seasick. All during this time the promised air support passed overhead, wave after wave, and faces lifted to see it were filled with gratitude.
Battleships and cruisers fired salvos into the Nazi defenses, destroyers steamed offshore battling 88s emplaced solidly in the bluff, while smaller vessels sprayed the beach defenses with rockets.
Finally, the craft straightened out into waves and headed for Omaha Beach with all the speed and power they could muster. All the companies were in either the fourth or fifth wave of the assault echelon. Soon empty LCVPs passed, returning to the APA. Seeing the empty craft relieved the strain a bit, for then it was known that the first wave had managed at least to disembark. The din of the battle came closer and closer, and to the sides and rear could be seen spouts of water where enemy shells were landing. Looking through the slit in the ramp one could see the smoke, wreckage, and carnage of the beach rapidly coming closer. The staccato rattling was soon recognized as machine gun bullets impacting as the craft threaded their way through the various lanes cleared by the shore engineers, but which were often lined with underwater obstacles and mines. Finally, with a last surge of power and a lurch that sent the unprepared hitting against the bulwarks, the craft grounded, and the ramps flew down spilling men, guns, and equipment on to the hell that was the shore of France. Many say now that it was a good thing most were "green" troops, for many a veteran "froze" that day. The constant drilling at the ATC resulted in doing automatically what was supposed to be done, without stopping to think of what was being faced. Heavy seas and the fact that some craft hung up on underwater obstacles made it impossible to make a dry landing.
The companies landed in the following order:
Companies A & D: H plus 50 minutes
Company B: H plus 90 minutes
Company C: H plus 9 hours
The LCT of the forward battalion command group was heavily shelled as it approached the shore. Enemy artillery pierced the starboard side of the craft amidship, killing T/Sgt. Cook of Headquarters Detachment and seriously wounding Col. James. The engine room was flooded and the rudder hit, leaving the craft with its dead and wounded adrift and floating out to sea. Aided by the current, the boat drifted toward shore and finally at about 1030 hours, beached itself under the protection of a steep cliff, where, under covering fire from the craft, the wounded were transferred to shore. Col. James was evacuated to England later that day in a hospital ship. Major Johnson (then Captain), being the senior officer ashore, took command of the assault echelon until the rear echelon arrived.
Company A, in support of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Division, landed at Easy Red Beach. Several mortars and carts were carried away by the heavy seas. After a hard struggle, the equipment was rescued and the company remained on the beach the entire morning, subjected to devastating machine gun fire which made it impossible to move. The company commander, Captain Moundres, was severely wounded while making his way through the surf to the beach. First Lt James P. Panas, who had already rescued a wounded doughboy from the water, ran back across the beach and, under heavy enemy machine gun, artillery and mortar fire, carried his wounded company commander ashore. Captain Moundres died as a result of his wounds, so Lt Panas, being now the senior officer, took command of the company, reorganized the platoons, and got them safely off the beach into firing positions along the slope of the bluff. For his leadership and gallantry in action, Lt Panas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The only enlisted man lost by A Company on the beach was Pvt George Baumgartner who was killed when an enemy artillery shell exploded near him. Pvt Kidwell distinguished himself by retrieving several men being carried away by the rising water, giving them first aid in complete disregard for his personal safety, and in spite of a wound he himself had suffered. Kidwell was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry and self-sacrifice.
After the infantry had broken through the beach defenses, the platoons took up positions by a tank trap in a field about 500 yards in from the beach. The enemy had direct observation on these positions and subjected the company to a severe shelling.
B Company's mission was to land on Dog Green Beach and provide direct support for the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry. Because the water obstacles had not been cleared and the beach was under heavy mortar, small arms, and artillery fire, the control boat ordered the wave to land instead on Easy Green, the left flank of Omaha Beach. As the boats were running along parallel to the beach, about 1,000 yards offshore, two of the LCVPs were hit and disabled by artillery. Despite an extremely heavy sea and the continual harassing fire from enemy machine guns and other direct-fire weapons, all personnel and equipment were safely transferred to an empty LCT. At approximately 0930 hours the entire wave was safely beached. Here the company was reorganized and moved inland about 100 yards.
At this time only a small section of the beach was held by American troops, and enemy fire was still inflicting heavy casualties. It was not until late in the afternoon that part of the company was able to move to a bluff overlooking the beach and fire its first mission. The first round was fired by Sgt Florio's squad at 1700 hours at a machine gun nest in the woods near St. Laurent-sur-Mer. Later in the evening it was found that nine men and two officers were missing; otherwise the company was intact. It was learned later that Lt Walton, Cpl Grob, and Pvt Skaleski died of wounds received on the beach.
In order to accomplish its mission, the company was forced to advance through one of the uncleared mine fields found everywhere about the beach. During this move, PFC Rone was injured by an anti-personnel mine and later died.
The wave containing C Company's LCVPs bore in towards the beach on schedule, but since the infantry was still pinned down within a few yards of water, the control boat moved them back to sea where they rendezvoused. Another attempt was made at 1000 hours, and still another at 1200 hours, the latter being met by machine gun fire as it reached the beach. As a last measure the wave moved down the beach to the mortar fire. The platoons, separately attached to battalions of the 16th Infantry, 1st Division, moved along the beach to their sector and initially set up 200 yards inland. Mines and sniper fire were ever-present dangers and again the medics distinguished themselves when Sgt Linnea Freda worked for hours treating and evacuating wounded with complete disregard for his own safety. He was later awarded the Silver Star.
At 0720, D Company's craft beached on Easy Green in support of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, under an incessant hail of machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire. Of necessity the boat teams were landed in water up to their waists, and the precaution that had been taken to attach inflated life belts to the carts proved a wise one. Machine gun bullets ripped into the belts on several of the carts, however, deflating them and causing the carts to sink. Sgt Raymond Nicoli, T/R Felice Savino, Pvt McLaren, and Pvt Benton L. Porter were wounded while rescuing this equipment and refused medical aid until this was accomplished. These men were justly awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their bravery. The preceding wave of infantry was lying only a few yards from the water, pinned down by the fire raking the beach. Lt Mohrfeld, platoon leader, 2nd platoon, was hit within a few minutes by machine gun fire and died shortly thereafter. Lt Costello assumed command of the platoon and, knowing that too much longer on the beach was certain death, reorganized the squads and infiltrated them off the beach amidst the heavy fire impacting there. Lt Costello later received the Silver Star for his gallantry. Captain Gaffney, company commander, was instantly killed when the craft in which he was riding struck a mine. Lt Marshall, platoon leader, 1st platoon, took over command. The bravery of the medics in taking care of the wounded under fire was again proven by T/5s White and Marrin.
Number four mortar of the 1st platoon, Sgt Miller's squad, fired two rounds of HE, from the initial landing place, at a machine gun emplacement 500 yards away. Lt Sabbione directed the fire from the mortar position. Although the target was at too close a range to hit, it is believed that these were the first rounds the battalion fired on the continent of Europe.
C Company changed positions three times after the initial landing on Easy Green. One of these movements involved a hand-carry of all equipment across a waist-deep, muddy marsh under fire. At 2200 hours the company moved northwest along a sea wall 800 yards inland through les Moulins to St. Laurent-sur-Mer, arriving at 2400 hours. Here the company dug in for the night and concealed its equipment.
All the assault vehicles of A Company were landed safely later that day, and those of C and D Companies were also landed with the loss of only one jeep apiece. B Company was unfortunate enough to have one of the vehicle personnel killed and two others and an officer wounded. Only one B Company jeep was landed, although another was later salvaged; all other vehicles were lost.
The next day A Company passed through Colleville-sur-Mer and made slow but certain gains, supporting the infantry whenever called upon. On D plus 3 the company was detached from the 16th Infantry, 1st Division, and attached to the 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division.
The nights were still cold, strange, and restless; the tension was felt by everyone. The sight of new units passing on the road gave everyone a sense of exhilaration.
The trek inland was slow and exhausting. C Company moved through Colleville-sur-Mer and St. Honorine des Pertes, still supporting the 1st Division. This company fired its first rounds on D plus 2 at enemy positions near Fosser Sancy. On D plus 3 the attachment was changed to the 2nd Division. At this time, Lt Robert Mann and his platoon accomplished a magnificent feat. Under enemy observation and sniper fire, Lt Mann led his platoon down a steep hill, over an open field, and across a creek, in order to furnish the infantry with the close support it so badly needed. It was necessary to wade the creek and hand-carry all equipment. The doughs were so happy to have the 4.2s that they lent a helping hand and later saw that the platoon was supplied with rations.
By June 10 the town of Trevieres was finally cleared, after being subjected to a heavy shelling by this company. On June 12 an OP party, consisting of Lt Mann, Cpl Roach, and PFCs Jones and Harris, accompanying an assault company, was pinned down for two hours and then overrun by a strong German counterattack. During this engagement, the popular Lt Mann was killed, Roach and Jones captured, and Harris luckily managed to escape. Two days later, Roach escaped, but Jones remained a prisoner until the allied armies overran Germany. Lt Mann was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously for gallantry in action, leadership, and courage.
June 14 (D plus 8) found C Company in position near Les Aieres facing Hill 192, when the enemy repulsed an attack by the 2nd Division to take the hill.
On June 9, B Company, seriously handicapped by the loss of its vehicles, acquired two 6 x 6 trucks from the field artillery. The acquisition of these vehicles solved the immediate transportation difficulties. At the time, B Company was supporting the 5th Ranger Battalion in an attack to clear out the coast fortifications. Elements of the 29th Division attached St. Marguerite d'Elle on June 12, with preparation fires from B Company in conjunction with the artillery. On June 13 the company moved to Couvains and was registered in for the first time by an artillery observation plane. By this time, the artillery had come to know and respect the power of the 4.2 mortar, particularly because of the better support it could give the infantry in the hedgerow terrain. After having been reattached to the 116th Infantry, B Company assisted in the attack on Bois de Bretel (Bretel Wood). The attack lasted two days, with the fanatic resistance ending on June 14. The company fired a total of 560 rounds of HE and 174 rounds of WP during the course of this operation a record which stood for several weeks.
On the morning of June 7, D Company fired its second mission near St. Laurent-sur-Mer at a machine gun nest only 800 yards from the gun position. A concentration of HE completely neutralized the installation. The company then moved northwest, cross-country over difficult terrain, subject to intermittent sniper and machine gun fire, and arrived at Vierville-sur-Mer at 1600 hours, where the commanding officer of the 116th Infantry, 29th Division, assigned it the task of providing security fire.
It was here that the company was subjected to one of the heaviest shellings it ever experienced. Several batteries of enemy 150mm artillery, firing from the vicinity of Pointe du Hoc, pounded the center of town and the road leading to the beach. Heavy casualties were inflicted on the regimental OP group and on a field artillery battalion coming from the beach. An ammunition dump was blown up, scattering small arms ammunition in all directions. This action caused a withdrawal for the time along the highway.
At 0530 hours, on June 8, D Company aided in the bloody attack on Grand Champs les Bains and was credited with another enemy machine gun nest. On June 9 the company was relieved from attachment to the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, 29th Division, and attached to the 175th Infantry, 29th Division, making a long road march to join this latter organization at la Fotelaie, beyond Isigny. On June 11, Company D caused the withdrawal of advance enemy mechanized units by maintaining intermittent fire on routes of approach. The following day the infantry confirmed the destruction of two machine gun nests by the 4.2s. The second platoon changed position on June 14 to cover a bridge crossing and, while registering with WP, burned down fortified houses known to contain machine guns.
In clearing the enemy from the beachhead, the companies expended a total of 6,807 rounds of ammunition. Casualties for this period were 11 killed (five officers and six enlisted men), 25 wounded, and one captured.
VII. The Battle of the Hedgerows
The long, slow, bloody battle of the hedgerows, which finally brought the infantry to Hill 192 and St. Lo, lasted from June 14 when the beachhead was secured, to the 26th of July when the attack from Hill 192 to St. Lo was launched. By this time the Germans had built up sufficient strength to half V Corps advance for a while. Progress was measured by hedgerows, and this period of fighting was probably the most bitter of the entire European campaign.
Counterattacks were heavy, fierce, and numerous in the sectors of all companies between the date of June 14 and July 26. The units to which some of the companies were attached were confronted with picked paratroop units, but these suffered such extremely heavy casualties from American mortar and artillery fire that one division with two-thirds of its strength casualties, had to be replaced.
Since this was essentially a dairy country, many cattle were killed, and in the hot June and July sun the odor soon became almost unbearable. The natives sold cider or a highly volatile brand of poison called "Calvados," and often provided a check or eggs (albeit unwittingly once or twice).
The rear echelon of the battalion embarked in two Liberty ships on June 14 from England and dropped anchor about two and a half miles off Omaha Beach the following day. During the night Jerry planes came over and bombed. The AA guns on each ship and from shore installations, put up a tremendous barrage of flak, and fragments falling on the decks sounded like an ominous hailstorm. Contact was established on June 16 with the advance of CP, and the rear echelon moved inland near Trevieres, France, where it remained for almost five weeks. Mess and ammo trucks were dispatched to the companies soon after arrival.
Nightly schedules of harassing fire were almost a certainty for A Company during this period. It was here that the phrase, "Who is harassing whom," was born. Souvenir hunting began about this time, despite the fact that all companies were almost continuously under fire of some sort. During one such barrage, A Company's Pvt. Bill Kaminsky jumped into what he believed to be a foxhole, but which turned out to be a straddle trench, much to his discomfort. This company was often in one position for many days at a time waiting for the infantry to take the stubbornly defended hedgerows being moved forward. Hardly a day passed that HE or WP missions were not fired.
On June 16, the regimental commander of the 9th Infantry commended the company commander of A Company for the effectiveness of a smoke screen which the company had laid in support of the crossing of the La Droine River. On this date also, the regimental commander of the 116th Infantry instructed his battalion commanders to call on the 4.2s as much as possible for close support because they could get twice the fire of the artillery out in the same amount of time.
At the beginning of this period, June 16, C Company, while supporting the 2nd Infantry Division, went into a static position facing Hill 192. This was a long high ridge, held by the Germans, which blocked the allied advance along the all-important St. Lo-Bayeux highway. From this hill, the enemy had excellent observation and pounded the troops facing them incessantly with artillery and mortars. Counterattacks in this sector were heavy and fierce during this period and C Company did much to break them up by firing WP and HE. The company was credited with stopping several of these attacks unassisted.
During June 15 and June 16, D Company did considerable effective firing in the vicinity of Moon-Sur-Elle. A series of enemy strong points consisting of a road block, a fortified house, and heavy machine guns south of the town were holding up the advance of the 175th Infantry, 29th Division. These positions were so well concealed by the terrain and foliage that the forward observer and his party, in order to observe and pinpoint the fire, took a squad of infantry as security and infiltrated 200 yards ahead of the infantry outpost to within 45 yards of the enemy; they were so close, in fact, that they could hear the enemy talking. After the registration was completed the enemy started throwing hand grenades at the party, so they withdrew to high ground and covered the area with mortar fire. The infantry, taking advantage of this concentrated shelling, moved in as the fire was lifted and succeeded in securing the ground.
D Company had an opportunity to learn the effect of its firing firsthand on June 17. An infantry patrol reconnoitering the town of La Meauffe was badly cut up by enemy fire coming from emplacements and buildings near the edge of town. Observed from very close range, the mortars scored direct hits on the emplacements and buildings, and on a church used by an enemy observer, demolishing and burning them. Immediately on "cease fire," four of the enemy surrendered, and upon interrogation by the infantry S-3, they stated that the shells landed directly in the emplacements, killing 27 that they saw. The WP had a terrific effect on the morale of the troops, causing them to evacuate the town. On this date, three members of a forward observation party were killed by direct fire from enemy artillery. They were 2nd Lt Giles B. Harris, Cp. Thomas H. Ward, and Pvt John J. Knott.
First Army orders were received on June 17 which listed the 81st Chemical Battalion as one of the units eligible for unit citation for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in the initial landing on the coast of France.
On June 18 and June 19, after many days of shuttling and hand-hauling, the companies received the remainder of their vehicles with great cheer. About this time, men began to be sent back to the battalion rear for two-day rests and cleanups. Badly needed replacement officers and men joined the companies at this time.
Pvt Domenic Sanna of D Company was killed on June 18 when two jeeps carrying up the companys first batch of mail and a load of ammunition took a wrong turn and ran into a strong enemy party. Both jeeps had to be abandoned, but several Germans were killed and wounded in the fight.
To D Company, the name "88 alley" has a particular significance. On June 19, while attached to the 175th Infantry, 29th Division, the company moved up to the vicinity of Le Mesnil-Roulexin to effect the relief of the 115th Infantry which had been cut off by the enemy. The FO party had left the night before with an infantry patrol, and at 0230 hours, as one platoon moved up with an infantry, the route of approach was shelled incessantly. German dead lined the roads and hedgerows where a bicycle company had been ambushed by the 115th, but before the night ended there were many American dead there also. Miraculously, the mortar men escaped death, but shells were landing so close that several ear drums were broken. A smoke mission was fired from this advanced position, with the infantry moving in under cover of the screen to take the town that day.
On June 19, Lts Andrew Z. Baker of Company C, and Charles S. Gardner and Francis Fisher of Company A, were wounded by artillery fire while at the observation post - all by one shell burst. Lt Fisher had only joined the company about five hours earlier.
B Company, attached to the 29th Division, fired a highly successful smoke mission on June 20, west of Couvains, to cover the withdrawal of friendly tanks. The following day a 25-minute concentration from its mortars was credited with stopping a company of enemy infantry attacking up a draw near the gun position. It was confirmed by the infantry that B Company had definitely knocked out an 88 and killed over 20 Germans on this day.
On the 29th of June, the S-3 of the 115th Infantry to which B Company was attached informed Captain Levy that prisoners had told interrogators they had come to dread the devastating effects of the heavy mortars. The next day the commanding officer of the 175th Infantry issued instructions that all targets within range of the 4.2s be assigned to them. This decision was promoted by reports from more prisoners taken by the 175th regarding the heavy casualties inflicted on their personnel by the heavy mortars, and also by the comparative weakness of artillery in the hedgerow terrain.
By now the 3rd Armored Division had opened its drive along the roads leading to St. Lo. On being detached from the 29th Division, the commanding officer of B Company was presented with the Bronze Star for the meritorious manner in which his company had carried out the support of the various combat teams of the division.
On July 1, D Company was relieved from attachment to the 197th Field Artillery Battalion, 30th Division, XIX Corps, and left La Fotelaie. It then traveled 32 miles across the front to take up positions near Caumont where it was attached to the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Division, V Corps. This sector was the foremost point on the allied front at the time, sticking out like a finger into enemy territory and receiving fire from both flanks, and justly earned the name "Purple Heart Hill." Despite the defilade, Jerry constantly sought to shell the position with fire from high-angle artillery, mortars, and "screaming meemies." During one such barrage, T/5 Fix was killed and T/5 White was wounded while attempting to give him first aid.
On the Fourth of July, at exactly 1200 hours, all companies fired one round from each gun as a part of the great "Independence Day Shoot" along the whole front. D Company also celebrated the Fourth of July by knocking out an entire platoon of German mortars. That night at the Caumont "hot spot," D Companys sector was subjected to a strong counterattack, preceded by an artillery, mortar, and Nebelwerfer preparation. The "Fighting First," supported by the 4.2s and other weapons, managed to beat Jerry off, despite the terrible shelling. Thanks to deep foxholes and overhead cover the casualties were few.
By July 7, most of the companies had made a big advance in centralizing control of their firing through the use of fire direction centers. Company A's FDC was almost put out of existence several days later when a direct hit was made on the dugout it was occupying, closing up the entrance and scattering equipment and personnel. Several casualties were inflicted on the company at this time.
The great attack on Hill 192, the gateway to St. Lo, was begun by the 2nd Division on the 11th of July. The mortars of this battalion pounded the hill and adjacent environs with a total of 4,832 rounds. C Company alone pumped out 3,195 rounds in 14 hours and Company A fired more than 500 rounds. Intelligence later reported that WP concentrations were so heavy that the enemy was forced to don their gas masks for protection against the acrid smoke.
C Company began firing at 0540 hours and fired almost continuously throughout the day. Probably the outstanding achievement was the smoke screen laid to prevent German observation on the important village of St. Georges D'Elle. The screen, maintained for almost the entire day, was considered by those who observed it to be a model for the offensive employment of a smoke screen. HE, used to blast strong points and enemy personnel, did a magnificent job in keeping the enemy from forming for counterattacks. Considerable counter-battery fire was received in the mortar position during the operation.
The 19th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Division, relieved the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion, 1st Division, on July 13 at Caumont, but D Company remained at the hot spot in support of this new unit, which had never been committed. The following day, PFC Robert Hoerter was seriously wounded and T/5 Leonard Topley and Pvt George Jelush were wounded slightly on Purple Heart Hill. Several direct hits on the dugouts used as an OP buried Lt Costello, Cpl George New, and Pvt Ramirez under a mass of logs, sandbags, and debris. All miraculously escaped injury.
This company left Caumont on July 22 and took up positions at Courmolain, attached to the 50th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Division, where it fired several missions in the vicinity of La Vacqurie and burned down the town of Bieville, an enemy strong point. It was remained there until July 26, when the British took over that sector.
Many observers rave about their "dream shots." Captain Panas often talked about his, which occurred while registering on a typical red-roofed Normandy farmhouse, on the south side of St. Lo road, during July 24. The A Company commander placed a shell on the roof of the house, and to check the lay of the guns, fired another round. The second round went through the hole in the roof made by the previous shell, and exploded inside!
On July 25, all in the vicinity watched in amazement the all-out bombing of St. Lo, as wave after wave of allied bombers pounded the city for hours. Then came the long-awaited breakthrough at St. Lo, just to C Companys right flank. The next day, July 26, the 2nd Division jumped off from Hill 192, with the 4.2s closely following, firing at every opportunity.
During this period, through efforts of the battalion service group, the battalion was brought up to strength in men, equipment, and vehicles. Although M6 propellant was critical, the companies were kept well supplied. The great amount of breakage of motor parts did not seriously interfere with the firing, because of the rapidity of repair and replacement of these needed parts by headquarters service personnel. The battalion fired a total of 26,874 rounds by the close of this period.
The Silver Star for gallantry in action on D-Day was awarded during this period to the following named officers and enlisted men:
Captain W. Johnson, Bn Hq
Lt Christopher H. Costello, D Company
T/4 Charles R. Dykens, A Company
Cpl Raymond D. Little, A Company
PFC Hoyt D. Anderson, A Company
T/5 Kenneth L. White, Med Det.
And the Bronze Star to:
Lt James P. Panas, A Company
Lt John F. Riddle, Bn Hq
for meritorious achievement on D-Day.
VIII. The St. Lo Breakthrough
After the five-hour bombardment on the 25th of July, Company A was given a schedule of fire to support the infantry attack the next morning. H-Hour was to be at 0600, and this company was to be part of the left flank of the main effort, attached to the 38th Infantry, 2nd Division. The specific orders were to break through and advance regardless of losses.
Closely coordinating with the artillery, the company furnished very close support to the infantry. A smoke screen was laid for the initial advance, supporting screens furnished throughout the day, and harassing missions fired at enemy OPs and mortar positions. Approximately 600 rounds were fired that day. This was one day that A Company received more than it gave. As the day slowly passed by, and shells kept coming in, it was realized that the enemy had been saving its ammunition for just such an attack. Both the OP party and the communications section suffered casualties that day.
The attack was a great success and a series of short, hard-won advances followed. Passing over Hill 192, the company crossed the shell-pocked Saint Lo road and sought the safety of deep German foxholes, there to sweat out the Luftwaffe. "Bed Check Charlie" came over every night.
Gains were now measured by two or three hedgerows an hour instead of two or three per day, but the hedgerows were becoming fewer and smaller. On the 27th of July, A Company entered Saint-Jean-des-Baisants, a town utterly destroyed by artillery and mortar shells. Leaving by a sunken road which had been a previous target for the company, it came upon the body of a dead German. Beside him lay the base of an exploded WP shell, fired at a range of 4,200 yards. The instrument corporal was ordered to remove this road block since the accuracy of his calculations was held responsible for it. It was here that General Hayes, Artillery General of the 2nd Division, remarked on the accuracy of the 4.2s, as he had observed the first round of adjustment hit the rump of a horse; the target having been a convoy of horse-drawn wagons.
Following the St. Lo breakthrough and the capture of the city, all troops continued to advance and exploit the break to its fullest extent. The Vire River was the next objective, and beyond that the southern border of Normandy. The going was tough and treacherous, for the enemy took the utmost advantage of every hill and hedgerow. It was "good mortar country," and well-defiladed positions could usually be found. The pace became faster and more prisoners began to come in than ever before. Enemy artillery and mortar fire was fierce, and bombings were more frequent. During this period, the companies had an opportunity to enjoy a few days' rest, the first they had had since D-Day.
CWO John W. Bundy, Hq Det, and S/Sgt Jack L. Rush, Company A, received orders awarding them battlefield appointments as second lieutenants, on July 29.
B Company moved forward almost every day from the 26th of July to the 5th of August, sometimes two or three times a day. There was no let-up in enemy resistance and on two occasions the company narrowly missed having numerous casualties. On the 27th, near Les Planches, and again on the 29th, near Rouxville, two shells from a German "170" landed in the mortar position, but failed to explode. At this time, night air attacks were more frequent than ever before, and parachute flares continuously illuminated the battle areas.
The first night after leaving Hill 192 a bomb fell in the C Company area, wounding Cpl Conroy, instrument corporal. The next night another fell in the FDC area, within 10 feet of the men in their holes; it harmed no one but set a jeep afire, and small arms ammunition exploded all over the area.
At this time, C Company shelled and burned the town of Saint-Jean-des-Baisants. It was then attached to the 35th Division on the right flank just south of St. Lo. On the 30th of July, the company moved with the infantry into the town of Conde-sur-Vire, where several startling incidents occurred in the space of a few hours.
The mortar position, of necessity on a forward slope to the left of town, was continuously subjected to grazing rifle and machine gun fire coming from the adjacent hill. Cpl Emerson's bald head made a particularly good target, especially when he removed his helmet and bent over his aiming circle to lay in the guns. Jerry began to snipe, and at every "ping" of a passing slug, Emerson knocked the aiming circle off a few mils. By the time he finished, the guns were close to firing on a back azimuth. Then things really began to happen. A German AT gun opened up, hit a jeep, then turned on the 2 1/2 ton ammo truck and slammed an AP shell through the motor. The truck, loaded with 150 HE and 150 WP shells, caught fire, the WP going off in bursts of two or three rounds at once. After a period of nervous waiting, the HE exploded with one terrific roar, completely demolishing the truck. PFC Burgess, headquarters driver, walked several hundred yards into town where he picked up a piece of his steering wheel, all he could find of the truck to turn in for salvage.
It is significant that despite these harassing incidents, the company fired a smoke mission screening the next town. No one was injured by the explosion of the ammo truck, but two men were wounded by the small arms fire. The same day, S/Sgt Toole received a battlefield commission as second lieutenant for outstanding leadership under combat conditions.
D Company remained in position near Cormolain until July 29, in support of the 50th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Division. During this period, the company knocked out a machine gun nest and destroyed an enemy OP in a church tower, which an air mission was unable to accomplish. It also furnished several successful smoke screens; one in particular prevented observation of German artillery which was inflicting heavy casualties. Another was fired in support of an attack by assault troops. The company was highly commended for this work by Lt Col Calhoun, commanding officer, 50th Field Artillery Battalion.
On the 28th of July, another honor came to D Company when S/Sgt Loren E. Weaver received a battlefield commission as second lieutenant.
While attached to the 10th Infantry, 5th Division, on July 30, the company silenced a machine gun near Coutu and helped to break up an enemy counterattack, which was severely punishing and driving back our infantry. No support was obtainable from the artillery on this operation because of the nature of the terrain.
B Company moved into an assembly area on July 31, in which it came under one of the heaviest enemy shellings since D-Day, for while moving out of the area a very heavy concentration was laid in. A sunken road with its high, banked hedgerows provided adequate protection and no one was injured. The front lines were advancing so rapidly at this time that B Company was seldom in one position for more than a few hours at a time.
On July 31, C Company demolished and set fire to the town of Torigny-sur-Vire, where the enemy was offering stubborn resistance. Those that saw the town afterward will bear witness that the job was thoroughly done. The path of advance was lined with dead animals, horses, cows, sheep and hogs, offering mute evidence of allied artillery and air bombardment.
It was during the next day that a C Company jeep struck a Teller mine. First Sgt Radakovitz, T/5 Croak, and Pvt Winston were killed, and Pvt Arnold injured. The death of these men, all well liked in the company, was a great loss. First Sgt Radakovitz was truly loved by the men; his leadership and advice will never be forgotten by those who served with him.
Moving just north of Torigny, Company A approached Vire and on August 4 fired one of its most successful missions. Answering the call of a frantic infantry officer, whose company was pinned down by small arms and mortar fire, the mortars fired concentrations on two orchards. Shortly after, the infantry commander reported the enemy completely routed, and his men had taken the position without firing a shot.
Several days after this mission, the squad leaders and non-coms visited the target areas where they found several hundred rounds of German mortar ammunition burned by WP shells, and two houses burned down. Direct hits had been obtained on mortar position. Food set out ready for a meal and line of mess kits lying on the ground, indicated a hasty departure. Evidently the job had been well done.
The advance continued. The Vire River was crossed. It was here that the infantry reported to C Company that the bursting WP shells had sent hundreds of Germans screaming into the river to ease their burning flesh where particles of flaming phosphorous had struck them.
During the first few days of August, D Company moved on to Le Breui, and thence on to Le Perron, near Torigny-sur-Vire, where it was attached to the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Division. The company harassed an enemy armored column and mortar park near Les Mesnils on August 4. Oil and gasoline fire could be seen sending huge clouds of dense smoke into the air.
Following a breakthrough at St. Lo, the rear CP moved on to Berigny, and then to Vieux Calnes. Near St. Martin Don, the companies assembled on August 5 and 6 in a battalion assembly area after having been relieved by V Corps. Companies A, B and D had been attached to the 2nd Division, while Company C was supporting the 35th Division. This ended the battalions first 60 days operation against the enemy and comprised the first formal rest period it had enjoyed since D-Day. The move to this assembly area represented an advance of 60 kilometers.
During this short breathing spell, August 5 to 12, a thorough inspection of all equipment was accomplished, repairs made, and replacement parts obtained.
About this time, the Stars and Stripes announced the units which had been awarded the Presidential (Unit) Citation by reason of their extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action. The battalion can be justly proud of the fact that the 81st Chemical Battalion was among those cited. A copy of the citation is given below:
GENERAL ORDERS No. 73
Washington 25, D.C.
II - BATTLE HONORS - 3. As authorized by Executive Order No. 9396 (sec. I, Bull. 22, ED, 1943), superseding Executive Order No. 9075 (sec. III, Bull. II, WD, 1942), citation of the following unit in General Orders No. 40, Headquarters 1st Infantry Division, 17 July 1944, as approved by the Commanding General, United States Army forces in the European Theater of Operations, is confirmed under the provisions of Section IV, Circular No. 333, War Department, 1943, in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follows:
“The 81st Chemical Battalion, Motorized, is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action. In the invasion of France, the mission of the 81st Chemical Battalion was to furnish close mortar support for the two leading assault regiments. In the accomplishment of this mission, the 81st Chemical Battalion landed at H 60 minutes on D-Day, at which time the beach and harbors were under incessant machine gun, artillery, rocket, and mortar fire from the enemy. Underwater and beach obstacles were encountered as the landing craft approached the shore and in the advance from the landing craft to the beach. When two LCVPs in which part of the battalion was landing sank from enemy shell hits, the men of the 81st Chemical Battalion transferred their mortars, ammunition, and equipment from their own landing craft to an LCM, and under constant shelling managed to land the equipment. In another instance, when their landing craft sank, the men, by their fierce persistence in the face of great odds, swam ashore, towing with them two mortars and two mortar carts which previously had been made buoyant by life preservers. Though numerous casualties were suffered, men of the 81st Chemical Battalion were not deterred from the accomplishment of their mission, and upon reaching shore with the loss of only one mortar, continued in support of the infantry for twelve days without relief. Such heroism and gallantry, in the face of tremendous odds and unusual and hazardous conditions, are in keeping with the traditions of the service and deserving of the highest praise.”
Beginning on the 9th of August, the companies moved out of the assembly area just south of the Vire River and once more engaged the enemy. The following day the rear echelon rejoined the 2nd Division CP.
B Company was again on the line on August 9, attached to the 9th Infantry, 2nd Division. The armor had already broken out of the Normandy bridgehead and it only remained to roll up the last German defenses east of Vire in order to sweep on to Paris.
During the first three days of these attacks, B Company kept pace with the infantry and was credited in one mission, fired late in the evening of August 11, with having knocked out two enemy tanks, killed or caused the surrender of a large number of the enemy, and with having forestalled a large-scale counterattack in the process of forming.
C Company also moved out on August 10 to the south in the general direction of Vire. More rugged fighting took place, many missions were fired, and several small towns set on fire. Cpl Morrison received shrapnel wounds during this period, which later led to his death. In one position near Truttermer le Grand, the infantry failed to push off on schedule and the company, not knowing of this delay, displaced forward, in accordance with prearranged plans, to a previously reconnoitered position. The enemy, having either spotted the position, or, while firing at a nearby road, shelled the company continuously. Many men were hit and PFC Kelly later died of wounds received at this time.
Company D moved out on August 12, attached to their old friends the 175th Infantry, 29th Division. When the company joined this outfit at Les Hautes Vaux it was shocked to find very few of the old officers of this regiment left. During the trip, the company passed through Vire and marveled at the damage done by air and artillery bombardment. The town was literally pulverized and still burning. The roads leading to the assembly area, near St. Sauveur, were littered with enemy dead, vehicles, armor, dead horses, and broken material.
Company A also was attached to the 175th on August 12. This company made mad rushes throughout Vire by day and night. T/5 Tiberio had a dreaded experience when he jumped into a foxhole seeking protection against an enemy artillery barrage. Before he could get settled, another soldier who had the same idea jumped in on top of him. This one was a German, but had sense enough to surrender without a fight.
B Company had an unfortunate incident occur while attached to the 38th Infantry, 2nd Division. On August 13, early in the morning, the kitchen jeep, hauling up breakfast and mail, was lost. The mess personnel had taken a wrong turn, found themselves in enemy territory, and were forced to abandon the vehicle.
Eight prisoners were taken by D Company on August 13 and 14. In order to find a position from which to adequately support the infantry, the reconnaissance party, consisting of an officer and two men, had to travel along four miles of secondary roads over which no American troops had passed and no mines had been cleared. They arrived at the town of Pont d'Greene and found they were the first Americans there. The Germans had just left, leaving thousands of dollars' worth of supplies and equipment. So the town of Pont d'Green and much booty was captured intact by three Americans. This same day a Ninth Air Force, P-38 pilot reached the company CP at St. Sauveur, after four days behind enemy lines. Though not wounded, the officer was shaken quite a bit. Three more prisoners were taken that day in one of the mortar positions.
During a reconnaissance near St. Sauveur on August 15, Lt Weaver captured seven more prisoners. About this time, the town of Tinchebray was heavily shelled by the mortars of C Company. Enemy resistance was collapsing all along the line. The Battle of the Breakthrough had been won. The "rat race" was on, and was gaining momentum every day.
The companies were again relieved from the front line on August 16 and 17 and the battalion assembled in the vicinity of Ger. Up to this time, the battalion had expended 31,352 rounds of ammunition.
Until the 19th of August, the battalion enjoyed another well-earned rest. Although someone once said a rest period was merely a preparation for the next operation, the chance to clean up and see a USO show featuring lovely Dinah Shore, certainly skyrocketed morale above its usual "excellent."
IX. The March to Paris
By the 20th of August, General Patton's Third Army had broken through the German defense line of southern Normandy, near Avranches. Several spearheads drove out fanwise into Britian, to the south toward Rennes and the Loire River, and in a half-circle to the southeast, swinging back up towards the towns of Falaise and Mortaine. Elements of the First Army, including the 81st Chemical Battalion, took part in the forming of the lower half of the great Falaise trap where the Germany Seventh Army was encircled. The battalion traveled some 180 miles to reach these positions.
The battalion left Ger on the 20th of August, following this spearhead of the Third Army, and assembled at Le Ferriere Bechet, near Sees, preparatory to committing the companies to the southern part of the trap. V Corps attached two companies to the 80th Infantry Division and two companies to the 90th Infantry Division for this mission.
Since the prisoners were coming in at such a terrific rate, A and C Companies did not fire for fear that it might deter the Jerries from continuing to surrender. Company A at this time was in an assembly area near Argentan, and C Company had their mortars set up south of Chambois. Company D took up firing positions at Le Bourg-St. Leonard in support of the 358th Infantry, 90th Division, and harassed pockets of enemy holding out in the vicinity of Montmiscent, as well as roads and wooded areas adjacent to it.
Columns of prisoners miles long, men marching three and four abreast, came in from all directions out of "Death Valley." The trap had finally been closed completely by the Free Poles of the Canadian First Army. All the German equipment lay scattered in the fields and roads. It had been an artilleryman's paradise. Hundreds upon hundreds of enemy tanks, half-tracks, and wagons were burned out or abandoned. The Germans had been trapped in a huge natural bowl, its outer fringe of hills controlled by our infantry. Artillery observers poured withering fire on the slightest movement. There was nothing left for the Germans to do except surrender or die. The overall results of this action completely eliminated the German Seventh Army as a fighting organization.
Souvenir collecting was engaged in by one and all. Practically every infantry dough boy had a belt full of Lugers and P-38s. The mortar men did all right too. The men also had a chance to view our allies, for here, jammed upon the main north to south highway, was armor and equipment belonging not only to the U.S. Army but to the British, French, Canadians, Poles and even the Free Dutch.
German casualties in this great envelopment were estimated at 400,000 men. Fourteen divisions had been destroyed, and part of the German Fifteenth Army as well.
American troops had crossed the Seine above Paris by August 23. Then the 2nd French Armored Division, under General Le Clerc, and the 4th U.S. Infantry Division reached Paris on August 25. The FFI had already cleared up most of the city, but it was not officially liberated until August 27.
After "the pocket," the battalion assembled in the vicinity of Sees for rest and recuperation, and on August 25 moved out in battalion convoy to join the rat race to Paris. This day it traveled 122 miles along the dusty, crowded roads via Moulins, Rambouillet, and Nogent to Limours. On the following day, the battalion moved on to the little town of Bievres, near Paris, and bivouacked near an airstrip there. All along the route of march, evidence of gratitude, welcome, and good will prevailed among the French people. Over-enthusiastic celebrants hurled fruit and flowers at the passing column, and many times ripe tomatoes and hard pears and apples left marks on a man. This seemed to afford quite a bit of amusement to the natives.
During this period, First Sgt. John D. Clancy was appointed Warrant Officer Junior Grade, filling a vacancy which had existed since CWO Bundy had been appointed second lieutenant.
Considerable enemy air activity took place on the night of August 26 in the vicinity of Paris, putting an abrupt end to the celebration taking place in Bievres.
The battalion had been tactically attached to the 4th Infantry Division on the 26th of August. On the morning of August 27, the day of Paris' liberation, B Company, attached to the 22nd Infantry, 4th Division, moved in motor convoy through Paris. On August 28, near Aulnay-sous-Bois, the company killed 10 Germans and wounded 15, wiping out an artillery FO party and destroying an enemy half-track. That same morning, A Company, attached to the 8th Infantry, 4th Division, passed through the Vincennes section of Paris.
C and D Companies remained at Bievres until August 29 and then were attached C Company to the 110th Infantry, and D Company to the 112th Infantry, 28th Division, our old friends of maneuvers in the U.S. The companies rendezvoused that morning in the Bois de Boulogne and prepared to take part in the official march of the U.S. Forces through Paris, although the 4th Division, with A and B Companies attached, had preceded them by two days.
The two companies moved out, passing the 2nd French Armored Division (who, we must admit, were to be envied for the delightful companions they had in their tanks and pup tents) and into the Avenue de la Grande Armee, where the vehicles formed four lanes, five yards apart. The parade turned into the Champs Elysees, past the Arc de Triomphe, and through the Place de la Concorde were Generals Bradley, Hodges, De Gaulle, and Koenig.
It is for each man to remember the fervor of the welcome received in Paris, for it was tremendous. Millions of people jammed the sidewalks and crowded towards the vehicles. The hilarious crowds, held in place by the FFI, broke through many times and mobbed the vehicles in a mad frenzy of kissing, handshaking, back-slapping, and the presentation of gifts of flowers, wine, fruit and food. Ah, those Parisians! There is truly no people in the world like them. It is impossible to record here all the bright pageantry of the days of Paris' liberation. The official records report no casualties those three days, but every hand was sore from shaking, and every face bore the red badge of the liberator lipstick. Parisian women were strikingly beautiful with their colorful clothing, high hairdos, and gaiety. To see the happiness and gratitude in the faces of these people made all the weary weeks of fighting seem suddenly worthwhile.
By August 29, after two days of firing, which helped to clear the last Germans from the city, B Company was already moving on the roads that were to lead in less than a month to the Siegfried Line.
Company A crossed the Seine over the Austerlitz Bridge on August 27 on its way to Germany. Companies C and D set up on the night of the great parade in the outskirts of Paris. C Company bivouacked in an abandoned race track and many of the men were allowed to spend the evening in the city. D Company set up its mortars in Le Bourget, where snipers were still active. To them, Paris was so near and yet so far.
The next morning found both companies on the road again, moving with the 28th Division and once more hot on the trail of the fleeing Germans.
In driving the enemy from the coast of Normandy and across northern France, the mortars had expended a total of 31,949 rounds.
X. On to the Siegfried Line
This was a battle for the roads, a period of vigorous pursuit and wide open warfare, with many divisions acting on their own. Highways were jammed with convoys of troops moving after the enemy as fast as transport could carry them. It was characterized by long road marches and occasional short, sharp encounters with enemy pockets of resistance. Jerry, with his armies in France destroyed, passed up ideal defensive positions, selling space for time in order to get to his prepared positions in the Siegfried Line. This was the time of the Big Sweep, as the British Second, the American First, Third and Seventh Armies, raced across France and Belgium on a 500-mile front. The U.S. First Army drove from Laon to Mons and Sedan during the first few days of September, reached Meuse and held it by September 6 from Namur to Sedan. By September 11, Luxembourg had been liberated and the German frontier crossed.
During the sweep, Companies A and B were attached to the 4th Division, and C and D to the 28th Division, with whom they remained until the end of this period. These two divisions and their attachments were two of the several fingers that were thrust across France and Belgium to the Siegfried Line.
The first brush with the retreating enemy took place at Compiegne Forest, famous for being the place where the Armistice was signed during World War I, and where Hitler did his famous jig after bringing France to her knees in the early stages of this war. The renowned railroad car was gone, taken to Germany by the vandals. Company A received some artillery fire when it came on to a hill overlooking the forest, but pulled back quickly a few hundred yards to a defensive position from which it fired harassing fire on a crossroad. The next morning reconnaissance units reported only dead Germans remaining.
After passing through Le Bourget airport, Louveres, Vemars, Pontarme, Chaumont, Villeneuve sur Verberie, Merciere aux Bois many times just an hour or two after the enemy D Company also arrived at the Compiegne Forest on September 1. On the way many jeep tires were punctured due to nails having been strewn over the roads by the FFI to delay the retreating Germans. Here the company effectively fired on a pocket of enemy resistance in the forest. One platoon crossed the Oise on pontoon rafts and fired a harassing mission.
Company B was attached to combat team "Taylor," which spearheaded the 4th Division drive to the Belgian border. The combat team was composed of the 22nd Infantry, 4th Division, elements of the 5th Armored, 801st Tank Destroyer Battalion, and B Company 81st. After traveling over a hundred miles in two days, encountering only negligible resistance, a small enemy force attacked the convoy near L'Arbre de Guise on September 1, where the company was bivouacked for the night. Enemy rifle and machine gun fire came into the area from Soulet, a little town about 50 yards from the company area, where the enemy had been successful in capturing two American half-tracks. These were retaken after a short battle. A little later that night an enemy tank attempted to penetrate the mortar bivouac area, but was engaged and driven off by the TDs.
Company C took part in the 110-mile drive to St. Quentin with the 110th Infantry, 28th Division, liberating the towns of Luzarches, Estrees, and Ham on the way. A German self-propelled gun firing only a few rounds into the position, near Pont St. Maxence, was the only resistance encountered until after St. Quentin was liberated on September 2. The whole town turned out in the typical French greeting.
The battalion rear echelon rolled through Paris on September 1, northeast towards Soissons, making stops at Longperrier, Ermemonville, and Haramont.
From September 2 until September 5, Company A remained in the vicinity of Mesnil St. Laurent and Neuvil St. Armand. The beautiful Meuse River, located deep in a cultivated valley, was reached on September 5. This country was in sharp contrast to the northern plain of France on which the company had been traveling.
The night of September 3 was an active one for B Company. An enemy patrol infiltrated near its position but was engaged and driven off by the company's local security. The following day the company was attached to the 12th Regiment of the 4th Division and remained with it until relieved from the First Army on September 18. The enemy resistance, while still light, had managed to slow the speed of the advance to 10 or 15 miles a day.
Starting September 5, C Company backtracked to the south, then east, and finally north again to arrive at a point somewhat east of St. Quentin. The company passed through towns made important by battles of the last war, but which were taken in just a few days this time. The route went through Ham, Noyon, Compiegne, Soissons, a total of 130 miles.
Company D drove through La Fere on September 2, past crowds of overjoyed, liberated people. The next few days the company passed through Bray, Lepron les Valees, and St. Menges, finally reaching the Belgian border at Muno on September 7. Near Rossingnel, on September 9, the company fired on an enemy troop column, inflicting many casualties and causing it to take off for the woods. This same day the company arrived at Heinstert and on the following day crossed the Luxembourg border near the town of Surre.
By the 9th of September, the rear echelon group was in Belgium, having passed through Laon, Rozoy, Etion in France, down into Sedan and over to Paliseul, Belgium. During the rapid advance across France, the army supply services performed as brilliantly as the combat troops, doing three months work in one. In gasoline alone, allied armies were consuming over one million gallons daily. Fuel was brought forward by a 700-mile pipeline, then trucked and flown by C-47s to the forward area. Long trips were made to the rear by our battalion service groups to bring up badly needed mortar and ordnance equipment.
In A Company's sector, the platoons moved forward in separate, parallel thrusts through a fluid front. At one time, a German armored car pulled out of a side road into the company's column. It was greeted with a storm of lead from tommy guns, pistols, carbines and M1s, and wisely beat a hasty retreat.
Probably the most courageous, and certainly the most decorated individual in the battalion, was Captain James P. Panas, Company A commander. While driving in a jeep with Cpl Raub and T/5 Anselme on September 6 to locate part of the company, Captain Panas ran into enemy troops in the town of Vresse. The party managed to get out of town, firing as they did so, definitely killing one German and wounding several others, but encountered two enemy tanks blocking the road at a sharp curve. With no alternative, they abandoned the vehicle. When fired upon, Captain Panas ordered the two men to disperse, which they did, escaping to a nearby wood; Cpl Raub returned later to send a radio message. The two men were assisted during the night by the FFI and Belgian patriots and were rescued the next morning by a reconnaissance unit. Captain Panas fought to the end, firing all his ammunition at the enemy before being killed. His body was recovered the next day near Vresse. He had taken a stand behind a building and the Germans had apparently used tanks in destroying the building. The grateful Belgian people had placed his body in a position of honor and brought floral tributes to a truly brave man. Lt Watts then assumed command of the company.
At St. Hubert on September 8, B Company received another memorable welcome. At the invitation of the Belgian civilians most of the company spent the night in houses where entertainment was provided in honor of the first American troops to enter the town.
Company C's mortar march continued, passing just south of Sedan, entering Belgium on the 8th of September. On the 10th, Lt Sippel and his reconnaissance party ran into machine gun fire and Lt Sippel was seriously wounded. The route swung north through Arlon towards Bastogne, but due to a blown bridge the march was reversed and the column swung back through Arlon and into the city of Luxembourg on the night of September 11. A huge crowd welcomed them to the city, but as usual the column did not tarry long. Here the company guarded Radio Luxembourg, the most powerful transmitter in Europe.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which D Company entered on September 10, was a beautiful little country with wooded, rolling hills and fields, here and there an ancient castle, and clean, picturesque little towns. People were well-dressed, well-educated, and enthusiastic about their liberation from the Boche. And besides that, they had good beer! The company moved from Heinstert to Weiderdange to Holler, arriving there on September 11. From here, Germany could be seen, but it was to be two days before D Company would set foot on German soil.
To D Company goes the honor of being the first company of the 81st to reach German soil and to fire from it. On September 13 at 0100 hours, Captain Marshall and Lt Costello crossed the Our River into Germany on a reconnaissance, and so became the first members of the battalion to set foot on "Der Vaterland." The 2nd platoon left Weiswampach, Luxembourg at 0530 hours and moved into position at 0600, near Peterskirche, Germany, in support of the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry. The 1st platoon left Clervaus at 0630 hours and moved into position near Sevenig, Germany at 0700 hour in support of the 2nd Battalion. The FDC set up in a pillbox between the two platoons at 1000 hours.
At 0815 hours, D Company fired its first mission from German soil. It is believed that this was the first American heavy weapons fired in Germany, since the infantry 81s had not been set up yet, and the artillery was across the valley still in Luxembourg. The targets were enemy troops which were dispersed. After the long road marches with little firing, targets were now plentiful. Later that day, an open gun emplacement was knocked out, an anti-tank gun silenced, and a troop concentration broken up with many casualties to the enemy. The mortar business was picking up!
Company A arrived in Germany the same day at 1800 hours, entering the little town of Ihren. The people stood in sullen little groups, staring, while an occasional unguarded child waved. The 4th Division, to which A Company was attached, was facing a comparatively weak section of the Siegfried Line only two kilometers in depth. The country consisted of rolling plains, largely barren of growth, and poor for defense. It was through this section that the German blitz gained momentum to roll through France in 1940, and here also, where later, the famous Ardennes offensive broke through in December 1944.
The German border was crossed by B Company at 1313 hours on the 13th of September. The enemy resistance stiffened quite suddenly late in the afternoon when German artillery in the Siegfried Line began to shell the surrounding roads.
Company C moved north through Bastogne and then east through part of Luxembourg to cross the Our River into Germany on September 15. As if to forecast the coming events, the weather, which had been reasonably warm and dry in France, now turned cold with continuous rain. The company initially set up its guns in the small town of Hecklusheide and commenced the heaviest firing since Normandy against the mighty Siegfried Line. Here heavy artillery and mortar counter-battery fire was received, the heaviest since the hedgerows.
By the 12th of September, the battalion rear command post had moved to a bivouac area one mile south of Bastogne. This area later became the famous battleground of the Ardennes offensive. The forward CP group, consisting of the battalion commander, S-2 and S-3 sections, had been moving with the V Corps CP. Much credit is due to the service troops of this organization who traveled miles over stretched supply lines to bring up vital rations, ammunition, and mortar parts during this period.
The 4th Division, with A and B Companies attached, wasted no time in attacking the Siegfried Line. It was attacked and breached on September 14 with the 4.2s of A Company giving close support from the town of Buchet. Infantry reported several direct hits on pillboxes being assaulted and were highly complimentary in praising the effectiveness of HE shells. In view of the successful initial penetration, the enemy expected a major breakthrough attempt and so threw many fierce counterattacks, massed many big guns, and threw terrific artillery concentrations at the attacking Americans. Several casualties were suffered when mortar shells landed in A Company's position. Many times the boom of the guns could be heard, firing from the vicinity of Prum. Company A fired continuously from a sea of mud for the next few days. Missions consisted of burning the three small towns of Hontheim, Sellerich, and Herscheid. Close support was given to the attack on Brandscheid, a strongpoint of the Siegfried Line in this sector. Change of targets and constant calls on the mortars by the infantry sometimes involved a back azimuth, or complete shifting about of mortars. In one harassing mission, Company A was given credit with wiping out half a company of enemy infantry located in a road cut.
Company B went into position southeast of Hascheid (Herscheid?) on September 14 for its first set-up in Germany. The next day German infantry halted the 4th Division's advance in this sector just beyond the first line of steel and concrete bunkers. While on the road moving up, B Company's column was shelled by German artillery, but most of the rounds fell short, driving several of the enemy out of hiding and forcing the company to dismount for a time and act as infantry. Later that day, T/5 Sklarew, Pvt Solik and Pvt Dobbins, in search of souvenirs, captured 65 prisoners in an enemy bunker that they had thought was deserted.
On September 16, the enemy was still being engaged by our infantry in the woods a few hundred yards from B Company's position. Enemy artillery fire was heavy during the day and the infantry suffered heavy casualties. Pvt Long was slightly wounded while with the FO party that day. On the following day, Lt Robert Wuller, forward observer, rescued a wounded infantryman in spite of heavy enemy fire, for which he was later awarded the Silver Star.
In the sector where C and D Companies were located, firing continued almost unabated as the 29th Division slammed itself into the cement and steel of the German defense line. Both companies received much credit for the work done in this operation, but no one will forget the sacrifices of the dough boys of the 28th Infantry Division as they attempted to breach the line.
From September 13 to 19, D Company remained in position on the Siegfried Line, firing night and day in support of the battered 28th. Between 150 and 400 rounds were fired every day, mostly at unobserved targets. On the very first day the company fired on the town of Roscheid, destroying 24 enemy personnel and a small ammo dump. The mortars were called on more and more as the infantry learned of their accuracy and effectiveness. Here the fighting was as fierce as the hedgerows, with the added advantage to the enemy of having prepared positions and strategically placed pillboxes with walls and roofs of steel-reinforced concrete six to 10 feet thick.
A smoke screen 1,100 yards wide was fired on September 14 to prevent observation from a row of pillboxes; for this effective screen the company received the praise of the 109th Infantry CO. Requests came in all day from the mortar observers and also from the rifle companies for specific missions. Steady streams of POWs could be seen coming in, but resistance was still fierce. Rain impeded the much-needed support of air and armor. On September 15, the 109th Infantry credited the 4.2s with one enemy mortar, several machine gun nests, and another ammunition dump. Three enemy OPs were destroyed as well as most of the personnel. The mortars saved one infantry platoon pinned down by machine gun fire, by firing a covering smoke screen while they withdrew.
All during this period, the Germans shelled in an effort to find the mortars that were raising so much havoc with them. The assistant division commander of the 28th visited the mortar positions personally to commend the company for its fine support.
The firing continued unabated. One of the most outstanding missions was completed on September 16 when the company burned down the town of Roscheid, for many days a strong point and supply base for the enemy.
The glare of the fire was seen miles away in Luxembourg by the company on returning from a trip to the company rear. The next day another anti-tank gun was destroyed and several enemy tanks burned with WP. The observation post, always a hot spot, received several direct hits from "big stuff." Lt Weaver and Cpl Aaronson brought wounded dough boys in under cover during this barrage. The commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, 109th Infantry, was rescued by the company's fire on September 18 when pinned down by fire from enemy automatic weapons. This proved the 4.2 an effective weapon as far as this officer was concerned.
Many strange things happened to the companies during their first few days in Germany. One day 36 Germans, the entire complement of a pillbox, surrendered to PFC Sklarew, a medic from B Company who was armed with only a mess kit. Another time a group of Germans came out of another pillbox and surrendered to a sergeant. One claimed to be from Brooklyn having returned to Germany on a visit just before the war. He was drafted and on duty in this vicinity for the last four years. He claimed that he had never fired a shot on American troops. Proof of the truthfulness of this statement was found in the fact that in the pillbox from which he surrendered there was a loaded machine gun, in perfectly good working order, trained directly on the route of approach; it had not been fired.
On the 16th of September, Major Jack W. Lipphardt, who had assumed command of the battalion on D-Day when Lt Col Thomas H. James had been seriously wounded and evacuated, received his promotion to Lt Col by orders from First Army.
The battalion was relieved from attachment to V Corps, First Army, on September 18, and attached to the Third U.S. Army, now to be known as Patton's men. The companies pulled out of the line, feeling a bit guilty about leaving those battered dough boys still in there, and proceeded to the battalion assembly area near Bastogne. The next day the battalion moved through Belgium into France near Longwy and arrived that night at Brainville.
The total number of rounds expended while with the First Army was 36,360.
On being relieved from V Corps, the battalion was officially commended by General Brooks, Corps Commander, for the excellent manner in which it had functioned while with that corps.
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