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History of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion
XI. The Attack on the Metz Fortress
While the First Army had driven across France into Belgium, Luxembourg, and finally into Germany itself, the armor of the U.S. Third Army had driven south through Orleans toward the oncoming U.S. Seventh Army, and also directly east through Chalons toward the medieval fortress of Metz, in the Moselle River Valley. As the 4th Armored Division's tanks rolled up to the gates of Metz itself, the ever-critical supply of gasoline slowed and then stopped entirely. The cavalry and tankers were driven back out of Metz and across the Moselle by the fiercely counterattacking Germans. Metz had been within grasp, but only for a moment. Supplies had failed to arrive so Third Army was forced to lay siege to the city's many forts. It was now evident that armor alone could not take Metz. Again, the job reverted to the basic weapons of all armies, the dough boy with M1 and bayonet, supported by artillery and mortars.
It was for this reason that the mortars of the 81st were called in to assist in the gigantic task facing the 5th and 90th Infantry Divisions.
Much has been written about the assault on Metz, the mighty fortress of Lorraine, but little has been recorded about the battle the troops fought during the period from September 19 to November 20 with the elements - chiefly, General Mud. It is true that the Germans threw everything they had into the defense of this citadel, yet their greatest ally was the weather.
From the battalion assembly area, the companies were attached to the two divisions assaulting the fortress area. A and B Companies going on the north flank of the Metz, with the 90th Division, while C and D went to the south with the 5th Division.
The long battle for Metz was characterized by static warfare, similar in many ways to the trench warfare of 1914-1918. The Germans holding out in the fortresses around the city made it impossible for the infantry to advance; thus the attack soon took on the nature of a siege.
On September 20, B Company occupied a position south of Verneville, in support of the 359th Infantry. The missions fired in this position, and subsequent ones were, for the most part, harassing and interdictory, or fired in support of the infantry against small groups of enemy personnel manning the perimeter defenses of Forts Jeanne D'Arc, Driant, Marivel and Guise.
A woods east of Marrielles was C Company's first position, facing the fortress city. It was the base of a long, thin spearhead extending north towards Metz. This area was part of an ex-gunnery course of a German officers candidate school, and consequently was well known to the former occupants. As a result, enemy artillery was accurate and heavy. It would be like sitting on the impact areas of Fort Sill and allowing the school personnel to shoot at one. Rain fell persistently, turning the low ground into lakes, and the high ground, once traversed, into a quagmire.
The enemy counterattacked, making the salient untenable. During a withdrawal to a new position, 1,000 yards to the rear, the enemy brought down a heavy concentration of artillery fire on the 1st platoon and the company CP group, wounding several men. The company commenced firing from the new position, seeking protection from enemy shells by the shelter of nearby German-built dugouts.
Company D moved into previously reconnoitered positions near Gorze on September 20, facing Fort Driant, one of the strongest forts surrounding the city of Metz, and the company's principal target during its stay there. The company took up positions about 3,000 yards from the fort in ruined Franco-Prussian War emplacements, with no shelter save scrub trees and caved-in trenches. It remained in this position until October 15, taking all the punishment the elements and Jerry could administer. However, it was far from one-sided, for the mortars dealt out more than they took.
Three times the dough boys tried to assault the impregnable Driant, and three times they were driven back with heavy losses. During these attacks, and in interim between them, the mortars fired numerous HE and WP missions, giving the infantrymen all the close support possible, but the thick impenetrable walls, moats and labyrinthine corridors of Fort Driant afforded too good protection for the stubbornly defending Krauts.
Many smoke screens were fired to deny enemy observation on advancing infantry. Good results were obtained against open emplacements surrounding the fort. On several occasions enemy tanks and self-propelled guns operating near the fort were silenced after concentrations of 4.2 shells had been fired on them. On the night of September 28, S/Sgt Turbyne captured two enemy soldiers in civilian clothes infiltrating through the fire direction center area at 0100 hours. That same day D Company was relieved from attachment to the 11th Infantry and attached to the 19th Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Division, in order to more closely coordinate fires.
Many air missions were flown against the fort, but the 500-pound "eggs" bounced like rubber balls off the solid concrete and exploded in the air. Heavy 240mm howitzers threw shells at the fort to no avail. The neighboring forts of Marivel and Jeanne D'Arc coordinated their fires, so that Driant was covered by their guns also.
The rain continued to fall incessantly, and the soft ground, with its big chunks of hard rock, raised havoc with mortar parts, causing excessive breakage. Other companies were experiencing the same difficulty with mortar-part breakage. Only the pooling of equipment and the redistribution of parts by Headquarters personnel kept the companies firing. On one occasion, a tank firing from the vicinity of Fort Driant shelled the company area. No casualties were sustained, but every shelter-half in the area was full of shrapnel holes, one mortar barrel was dented, and two HE shells broken open without exploding.
Company Bs second position in the Metz sector was in a draw, west of Gravelotte. Here it built and furnished two large dugouts. The days became monotonously alike as the first rains of early fall came. Warmth and shelter were primary concerns.
On October 2, Company A moved just south of Hagondange into "Der Reichswerke-Hermann Goring-Werksgruppe Hagendinger." The enormous steel plant was located seven miles north of Metz and one mile west of the Moselle. Many large, colorful pictures of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goring adorned the premises. These were, however, quickly and enthusiastically removed. A sign was found in an executive office instructing all who entered to come to attention, give the Nazi salute, and say "Heil Hitler." That sign started its trip to the U.S.A. the same day. During the stay in the factory, the personnel of this company never suffered a shortage of stationery, as the former occupants had obligingly left an abundant supply.
Company As task was to assist the 357th Infantry of the 90th Division to take the town of Maizieres Les Metz. It proved to be a tough nut to track and progress was measured from house to house. On October 3 the attack started. It was hotly contested by the enemy, and both sides expended large amounts of artillery, mortar, and small arms ammunition. The infantry advanced slowly, with the close support of A Companys mortars, first taking an enormous slag pile located between the factory and the town, then driving the Germans out of several factory buildings. The dough boys gradually gained control of the northern part of town; then a stalemate ensued and both sides settled down to a slugging match.
Attached to the 2nd Infantry, 5th Division, C Company moved into position west of Sillingny and dug in for what turned out to be a six-week stay in that immediate area. Much time was spent in improving foxholes and trying to keep warm and dry. Towards the end of the period, the rain became so intense that practically all of the foxholes were filled with water. Roads into the area became bogs. Despite these difficulties, Mess Sgt Haase appeared day after day to bring up hot meals over almost impassable, heavily-shelled roads to the muddy mortar men. On the 30th of September, a company rest camp was established at Pagny and several men at a time were given a two-day respite from the mud and discomfort of the line. Clothes were washed, movies attended, and extracurricular activities engaged in. The French were quite cordial.
Throughout the Metz campaign, the companies were kept busy firing. Division and corps artillery were strictly rationed on ammunition, their fires being limited to registration and emergency missions; consequently, the entire artillery support for a time was furnished by the 4.2s and TDs. Fire missions came into C Company at all times of the day and night. All types of firing was done: smoke screens, anti-personnel, harassing, and counter-battery missions were some of the more common types. Firing was observed by our own FOs, artillery FOs, infantry FOs, and even by the dough boys from front line foxholes. FDC controlled most of the firing.
While in position near Lorry, several unfortunate incidents occurred. L. Toole, an officer who had won his commission on the battlefield, was accidentally shot to death by an infantryman while returning from the OP. Sgt Innacone was instantly killed during a heavy mortar barrage, while eating chow near a foxhole. The loss of these men was deeply felt by the company.
The long-awaited attack on Fort Driant was begun at 1100 hours on October 3. Company D began supporting the advance of the 11th Infantry, 5th Division, by laying a smoke screen that was maintained for five and a half hours, permitting the infantry to reach the fort without observation from the nearby Fort Marivel. One platoon of Company C was brought up into position to reinforce the fires of Company D for this mission. Due to overcast skies, air support for the attack was impossible until later that day. Firing under most adverse conditions, with mortar parts breaking and mortars nearly disappearing from sight into the unfavorable ground, D Company pumped out 1,620 rounds of WP in five and a half hours, while the platoon of C Company expended approximately 600 rounds on this mission. Because the guns would go out of action so quickly, it was seldom that more than two guns per platoon would be firing at one time. Several barrels were burned out from the rapid firing, and in all cases the gunners and cannoneers were forced to use asbestos gloves. In some cases, the barrel became so hot that the gunner could not set the sight for making the necessary adjustments. Each barrel at one time or another had a cherry-red glow. Despite the fact that the doughboys had reached their objective under cover of this tremendous screen, they were not able to seize the fort, and the next day, October 4, the company was called upon to repeat the performance of the preceding day.
Again, a protecting screen was started, at 1045 hours, and continued for seven hours and 15 minutes. This time, D Company bore the brunt of the job alone, firing approximately 2,300 rounds of WP in the operation. The dough boys managed to work their way into the first series of corridors of the fort, and even poured burning oil into some of the apertures, but the stubbornly-defended, honeycombed fort just could not be taken by direct assault, despite the heroic sacrifices of the infantrymen. The infantry pulled out of the stronghold that night and reformed at the base of the hill. The company remained near Fort Driant, continuing to support the dough boys by harassing the towns neighboring the stronghold until October 15.
The OP used all during these operations was an observation tower 100 feet high, which was under direct observation from the fort. Every now and then, Jerry would spray it with automatic weapons and flak. One time, he really laid it on with artillery and succeeded in knocking out one of the legs supporting the tower; that ended OP for a while. During this first week in October, D Company expended 4,845 rounds against Fort Driant. Here the company had its first experience with "streamers," incidents where the steel casings of WP shells burst shortly after emerging from the mortar barrels, spreading phosphorus over the gun position and leaving a white streak in the sky pointing out the exact mortar position to the Germans.
All during October, the battalion rear CP remained at Brainville, near Conflans, France, engaged in administrative work with XX Corps and supply to the companies.
Exactly one month was spent in the vicinity of Maizieres Les Metz by A Company, living in clean office buildings under not-too-unpleasant circumstances. To make the story seemingly complete, several films were shown in an air-raid shelter and the company was visited by Red Cross doughnut girls. However, it was not all a life of ease. A battle was being waged that seemed to have no end. Just as the mess sergeant would yell "chow," the platoon sergeant would yell "fire mission." Invariably, just as the platoons got in the sack for the night, they would be roused to man the guns. Just as a guy was getting to know that cute Red Cross girl, she had to go. Cest le guerre!
In one month, A Company fired better than 13,000 rounds. Return fire from the enemy was limited and the few casualties suffered were minor ones. Missions were varied. Night firing, which consisted of harassing supply routes and possible regrouping areas, was SOP. Infantry officers requested HE fire within 50 yards of their own troops, knocking out an enemy machine gun and all but one of the crew. Acting on POW reports, the company destroyed two ammunition dumps. A direct hit was scored on a dug-in German mortar, and enemy OPs were continually harassed. One truck in a Jerry supply convoy was definitely destroyed.
Since the approaches to the front lines were under observation, the mortars of A Company were frequently called upon to screen enemy observation. Later that day, tanks going into Maizieres were screened, and thereafter, every time a tank entered or left the front line position, which was at frequent intervals, a screen was fired. Starting October 18, an M12 tank mounting a 155mm gun, used for direct firing on buildings occupied by the enemy, was given the same service.
At this time, B Company was split up in three sections to cover the regimental fronts of the 358th and 359th Infantry in the Metz area. One of these sections, consisting of two guns of the platoon, remained in Verneville, the other two guns of this platoon stayed in the draw west of Gravelotte, while the 2nd platoon moved into a draw south of Resonville. Enemy patrols penetrated the front line in this sector on several occasions during these weeks. Pvt Blankenship, after being challenged in German, shot and wounded a member of the FFI, mistaking him for a member of a German patrol; otherwise, the nights, like the days, were without incident. The rain, the cold, and the monotony of firing always on the same targets made the period of the siege of Metz seem almost endless.
Company D moved from the vicinity of Fort Driant on October 15 and set up in the area near Arry, France, on the reverse slope of a hill. Its primary mission here was to destroy the towns of Corny, Fey and Vezon prior to jump-off for the northerly attack on the forts of Verdun and to cover with fire enemy activities on the wooded plain southwest of Metz. All these places were occupied by considerable numbers of the enemy. These missions were carried out quite successfully during the companys prolonged stay in this area. When questioned by intelligence officers, POWs attested to the fear spread by the alternating HE and WP that was being employed. During this period, D Company also established a rest camp in a hotel in Pagny, across the Moselle, where it set up its kitchen and rear CP. This was almost a necessity, since living conditions in the mud and ruins of Arry and its environs were almost unbearable for prolonged periods of time. Yankee (and Rebel) ingenuity was in evidence everywhere among the men in making foxholes and dugouts as livable and comfortable as possible. Makeshift stoves were constructed from Jerry gasoline cans, and the walls of the holes were lined with boards.
During this period, the company was visited by an inspection team from Technical Division Chief CWS ETO, seeking to determine the cause of barrel bursts, streamers, shorts, breakage of cartridge containers, and poor condition of ammo in general encountered by the mortar battalions.
On October 19, PFC "Pappy" Fenner was chopping some wood for his fire when someone remarked, "Tough work, isn't it, solder?" Fenner, without looking up, replied, "You're damned right it is," and then added a hasty "Sir" when he looked up and found General George Patton smiling down at him. The next day three men who had been wounded on D-Day, proud holders of the DSC, returned to the company. They were Sgt Nicoli, T/5 Savino, and Pvt Porter. The OPs in this area were hot spots, one in particular constantly coming under fire from the heavy artillery of Fort Verdun. A dead German near the OP became increasingly malodorous as the days passed. He was affectionately labeled "Herman the German." The company missions from this position included the complete destruction of the towns of Fey, Corny and Vezon. Much equipment was destroyed and many of the enemy killed or wounded. One job in particular was very gratifying. A friendly patrol returning to our lines called for a smoke screen when pinned down by enemy fire. This was quickly furnished and the patrol returned safely. Later in the day, the patrol leader called personally to thank the company for a splendid job.
Prior to this, on October 19, the ammunition section of B Company, located near Jarny, was subjected to a heavy shelling from long range German 280mm railway guns, located somewhere near Ebbersviller. The first round burst within 10 yards of the ammunition trucks, which were parked near a stack of HE and WP shells. Five rounds of WP were detonated by the explosion and fires were started throughout the area. S/Sgt Huempfner and T/4 Bower, at great personal risk, fought and finally extinguished the fires. T/5 Gross and Pvt Pace, Headquarters drivers, only partially clad and without shoes, drove the burning ammunition trucks to a place of comparative safety. All were awarded the Bronze Star for their heroic achievement on this occasion.
Maisieres Les Metz was taken on October 29 with support of A Company's mortars which fired 2,247 rounds that day. A cleverly deceptive plan of attack was worked out whereby the company fired a screen shielding the infantry attacking from the rear, while other units pinned the enemy down from the front. This action diverted attention from the attacking forces and enabled them to overrun the enemy positions. The operation was a complete success and the next day Brig General Weaver and Col George of the 90th Infantry Division visited the command post to compliment the company on the effectiveness of its firing.
By the end of the month, the battalion rear moved to St. Benoit, France. At this time all companies except D Company were pulled out of the line for a day or two of rest and recuperation.
Finally, the order was given to take Metz. The plan called for four drives, two from bases close to Metz, and two others each crossing the Moselle, one north and the other south of Metz. These latter two were to converge east of the city, cutting the escape routes.
Company A was attached to the 358th Infantry, 90th Division, for the northern drive. The company arrived at Koeking on the Moselle on November 7 after an extremely wet night move. Mortars were set upon the main street and harassing fire was placed on Haute-Ham. A ferry landing at Cattenom, right under the eyes of the Germans occupying Fort Koenigsmacher, was selected as a bridge site. On November 9, the company moved into Haute-Ham and again set up their mortars on a main street. The infantry crossed the Moselle that day in assault boats, captured Fort Koenigsmacher, and beat off several counter-attacks, but were left in a precarious position as a result of the heavy rains which flooded the river and made it almost impossible to construct a bridge. The supply problem became so acute that Piper Cub planes were employed to fly in K rations.
Orders alerting B Company were received on November 7. That night, attached to the 359th Infantry, 90th Division, the company moved to an assembly area near the Moselle. Heavy rains delayed the crossing, but the bridgehead was established on November 9 with much less difficulty than had been expected. The mortar men crossed without mishap on November 13 and 14, and took up positions in the woods of Bois de Koenigsmacher. The following day, after moving into Breistroff la Petite, three men were injured when an enemy tank fired into buildings occupied by the company.
Company C swung from the south side of Metz on November 10, back across the Moselle to join the 10th Armored Division's drive to the northeast across the Moselle and into Germany. Major Hausman, the battalion S-3, accompanied C Company on what proved to be a rugged operation. While on the road during Armistice Day, November 11, the company passed St. Mihiel, where the huge American military cemetery is located. Many clean and neat GIs were parading there, shoes shined and stripes sewed on. The mortar men looked at one another, covered with mud, wearing an assortment of uniforms, unshaven, dirty, and tired, and were reminded of the doughs in Mauldin's cartoons. They felt they didn't belong here with these prettily-dressed soldiers, but belonged back in the mud and rain where mortar shells burst without warning and stripes attracted sniper's bullets.
The company moved in a half-circle around Metz, arriving in Tetange, Luxembourg, on the 12th, and prepared for the drive on the Saar. The natives of the Luxembourg town entertained the members of C Company royally that night. The Moselle was crossed the next night under cover of darkness and smoke screens. On the 14th the company joined the armored column, moving with the 3rd Tank Battalion. The rain and a heavy shelling made rough going that night.
In order to stay with the combat teams, it was found necessary to leapfrog the platoons. As the division spread out, however, the mortar platoons were unable to maintain contact with each other and the leapfrog system was abandoned. Pvt Anthony Pittari was instantly killed and several other men wounded near Kirschnaumen, France, due to a heavy enemy artillery barrage. During this shelling, Cpl Bersch, although wounded, distinguished himself by assisting the medics to evacuate all other wounded personnel. He later received the Silver Star for his gallantry.
Due to the flooding of the Moselle, the armored drive had been postponed and the Germans had been able to build up strong field defenses in this area; in addition to this, the roads were heavily mined. The 10th Armored had some tough fighting to do and the platoons of C Company, traveling without armor protection of any kind, continually encountered German troops bypassed by the tanks.
The first platoon moved off to the right, passing through Kirschnaumen, Remeling, Ritzing, and Flastroff, shelling many towns from their various positions. In many places the mortar men were the first troops to enter. Because of the fluid situation, the platoon was forced to retire from the Remeling area when the Germans counter-attacked. The town was subsequently shelled by the company.
The 2nd platoon meanwhile went to Ritzing, then Launsdorf, and finally further east into Germany. Here the thin section of armor in front of the platoon pulled out, leaving the 4.2 mortars out in front. Even the 50mms were set up to the platoon's rear. The enemy commenced to shell the position with direct fire weapons and mortars until the position became so untenable that march order was given. German observation was good, and while attempting to withdraw up a hill through almost impassable mud, each vehicle in turn seemed to be followed by a flight of mortar shells. One shell hit a trailer, another wounded several men slightly, knocking off Pvt Tester's helmet. Pvt Tester owes his life to a wad of toilet paper carried in the helmet. The falling helmet struck Pvt Oates, who uttered the immortal words, "Take me Lord, I'm hit." Two trailers had to be left behind, including a complete mortar, but the platoon finally fought its way out and set up in a more tenable position.
Company D left Arry on November 6 and occupied a position near some 1914-1918 pillboxes in the vicinity of Bouxieres. This proved to be a jump from one mud puddle into a deeper one. Incessant rains flooded out every foxhole and made the ground wet and soggy and highly undesirable for mortar firing. Despite these difficulties, the company managed to give supporting fire to the infantry, using charges as high as 35 rings at times to get as much as 5,200 yards in range. A system of leapfrogging was put into effect, whereby one platoon moved ahead while the other remained in position to give support to the advancing infantry. During this process, the following towns were fired on and then occupied: Cheminot, Louvigny, Vigny, Gare, Beard, Lemud, Buchy, Aube, Dain-en Salnois, Domangeville, Verny, Crepy, Jury, Pouilly, and Magny. The 2nd and 10th Regiments of the 5th Division were supported in these operations. It was in Vigny that one officer, while on reconnaissance for a new position, captured an SS trooper attempting to blow up an important bridge, the American officer obtained a brand new P-38 plus the prisoner. German dead, as well as destroyed enemy material, lined the roads as the advance continued. The 4.2 mortars were responsible for a good deal of this destruction. Enemy artillery was active, both from the mobile guns and from those in the forts surrounding Metz.
It was in the vicinity of Magny that the company had its "field days" on November 17 and 18. The enemy allowed one platoon to move into position, then opened up with heavy mortars. By infiltrating the men and vehicles, the platoon managed to withdraw without a casualty or loss of equipment and set up in a more tenable position near the 81mm mortars. An unfortunate incident occurred here when Pvt Keith Sheehan was killed by a premature burst from an American 81mm mortar. That day, the company destroyed two enemy 75mm guns, putting one round right through the gun shield of one of them. A battery of enemy 88mm guns was spotted and fired upon until the enemy gun crews deserted the position. A parade ground near some barracks was fired upon and machine guns were knocked out in the vicinity. Enemy ammunition and oil supplies were also destroyed. All these targets were in the vicinity of Queleu, a suburb of Metz.
Company A had its first experience with a shell bursting in the barrel on the night of November 10. Sgt Hodgins and Pvt Haskell Roberts were seriously wounded. The company fired harassing missions on Fort Koenigsmacher and its approaches before its capture, and thereafter harassed roads to the south and burned the towns of Basse-Ham and Haute-Ham. The mortars were called upon to supplement the smoke generators in screening the engineers' operations while constructing the bridge over the Moselle. On November 13, from 0630 to 1615, nine hours and 45 minutes, the company laid a screen in front of the hills beyond Basse-Ham, expending 1,202 rounds to permit the engineers to complete the bridge that day.
At 0350 the next morning, Company A crossed the Moselle to Koenigsmacher, and later moved to Valmestroff where it was on the receiving end of an extremely heavy artillery barrage and suffered several casualties.
A smoke screen was laid in front of Distroff, the next town in the drive south, enabling the infantry to capture it with only light casualties. On November 15, the company started to infiltrate into this town, one jeep at a time, at 10-minute intervals, since the Germans were still heavily shelling Valmestroff and the road leading to Distroff. It proved to be an "out of the frying pan into the fire" affair, because after several squads had left, the Germans counter-attacked Distroff. Two vehicles had already reached the town; the others halted, sought cover, and worked their way back to Valmestroff. Captain Watts, while attempting to halt the rest of the vehicles, was trapped by a German tank and taken prisoner along with 1st Lt Stone and Sgt Lamb. PFC Arnold Tuttle, who thereafter was dubbed "half-track," looked out of the window of the CP, curious to see who had just pulled up in a 6X6, and was amazed to find a fully manned German half-track instead. Tuttle retired to the nearest corner of the room and sought solace in a bottle of champagne. Frank Jones aided an infantryman in loading his bazooka. Several other men, trapped in a barn, sweated it out under a pile of hay while enemy infantrymen probed about and then left, unaware of the presence of the concealed men. Down the street a BAR man pumped six slugs into one of the enemy, who died shouting "Heil Hitler." Shortly thereafter, the mortars laid down a smoke screen on Valmestroff, enabling our tanks to advance into the town and beat off the enemy, inflicting fairly heavy losses. Lt Baum assumed command of the company.
At Distroff the backbone of enemy resistance was broken. Smoke screens were laid to enable the infantry to advance over the bare ground between towns, and a few harassing missions were fired. The advance continued, and on November 19 the company reached Lue Chateau, east of Metz, at which point the encirclement was complete. A few missions were fired into a wooded area near Les Etange where stragglers from Metz were observed trying to escape. The enemy was thoroughly beaten and disorganized. To end such a long hard-fought campaign, five of the enemy walked into the CP and surrendered to an amazed, drowsy switchboard operator.
B Company had its first experience with barrel bursts on November 16. Cpl Graves and Pvt McMath were instantly killed near Briestroff when a mortar shell exploded in the barrel at 2315 hours. The next morning another barrel burst occurred, killing PFC Scarfo and wounding Cpl Kittle and PFC Winders. At this time, it was impossible to determine any definite cause for the accident except that of faulty ammunition. In spite of this physical and psychological hazard, B Company continued to provide the close support that the infantry so badly needed.
Fort de Queleu, guarding the very gates of Metz, was fired upon by D Company on November 20. This fort was to be bypassed and a smoke screen was needed to hide the movements of the infantry. A screen, lasting one hour and 35 minutes, permitted troops to pass safely and advance on the city. Later that day, a screen was provided for a group of engineers who had been pinned down by machine gun fire while attempting to return across the Seille River.
On the 20th of November, the forward observer from D Company entered the city of Metz with advance elements of the 10th Infantry, 5th Division. Enemy resistance had been crushed by steady pressure and many prisoners were taken. The entire company moved into the ancient city the following day. On Thanksgiving Day an excellent turkey dinner was enjoyed there.
In the latter part of November, the rear battalion command post moved to Fontoy, France, where the members of the battalion were later to enjoy a few days of well-earned rest.
The 4.2 mortars had played an important role in the conquest of Metz, the Fortress City, which had not been taken by storm since the year 1400. At the end of this phase, the battalion had expended a total of 87,859 rounds of ammunition.
XII. Taking and Holding the Saar Valley
With the fall of Metz, Patton's Third Army continued to advance from the Moselle River across Lorraine to the German frontier and into the important Saar Basin. In the initial phases of the operation to reach the Saar River, the infantry captured Boulay and drove north to outflank the Maginot Line. The initial moves, the same day-after-day sequence of attack, advance and hold, which this time brought out infantry to the banks of the Saar, were similar to the moves made by our troops in the battles through Normandy.
Company A, attached to the 399th Infantry, 95th Division, found itself, on November 24, in Gomelange, located on the flooded Neisse River. Elements of the Maginot Line were located on the eastern banks of the Neisse. Resistance was rapidly overcome, and missions were limited to harassing fire on the town of Valmunster, and HE missions against pillboxes and enemy personnel digging in near Valmunster.
In this period, B Company played a more significant part than in any other operation in which it had engaged since the Battle of the Hedgerows. The company moved on November 25 in support of the 377th Infantry, 95th Division, which was fighting near Boulay sur Moselle. From this time, until the 3rd of December, when the company moved to the west bank of the Saar, the old familiar pattern of the Normandy breakthrough was repeated. Resistance stiffened for a few days, while the Germans withdrew the main body of their troops across the Saar. B Company remained in a static position in Guisingen until this resistance was crushed. A few days later, however, in Niederlimberg (a suburb of Wallerfangen), the company began the long unceasing effort to keep its mortars firing day and night in support of the infantry fighting a bitter, violent battle for Dillingen and a bridgehead across the Saar.
Meanwhile, C Company continued to support the 10th Armored's drive. At this time, Lt Andrew Baker and Cpl Ferrera distinguished themselves by crawling forward to a knocked-out tank under fire, dragging several wounded tankers from inside and pulling them to safety. Both received the Silver Star for their gallantry in this action. A decoration came to Lt Baker from the enemy side as well for, while at an OP, a cry for help was heard; crawling forward to investigate, Lt Baker found a German FO, also a 1st Lt, seriously wounded. Baker dragged the wounded officer to the safety of the American lines and the grateful German presented him with his own Iron Cross.
The platoons continued to fire many missions, saving the armor much trouble on the flanks. Many non-battle casualties were evacuated at this time, due to the extremely rigorous weather conditions. Trench foot and colds ran right through the company, although all men made every effort to combat these menaces.
Company C was attached to the 90th Infantry Division on November 26. The company left the 10th Armored Division and moved into position south of the tankers on the Saar River. Shortly after this, the company was shocked to learn of the death of Captain Gates, company commander, who was accidentally killed by a gunshot wound. First Lt Lee H. Boyer, executive officer, assumed command of the company.
Metz was the jumping-off place for D Company in the attack on the Saar Valley. On November 24, the company joined the 378th Infantry, 95th Division, and advanced using the leapfrog system once more. The enemy again adopted a hit-and-run defense, subjecting the company to intense fire along the route of advance. Fire was so heavy on two towns, Narbefontaine and Niedervisse, that it was necessary to evacuate the ammunition vehicles. The towns of Coume and Hargarten were fired upon and occupied, and the towns of Dalem, Varize, and Denting were entered without incident, after being reduced by the infantry. The towns of Falck, Remering Berweiler, and Sauleavon fell before the advancing dough boys.
In the town of Falck, on November 28, the 1st platoon of D Company acted as infantry, beating off fierce counterattacks from the hills dominating the towns. Enemy fire became so intense that the company withdrew from Falck. Later on in the day a direct hit was scored on one of the company's ammunition jeeps in Saule. Two men were slightly injured, but more casualties were averted by the courage of Pvt Myrick, who kept the fire under control with a fire extinguisher; meanwhile, the enemy continued shelling.
Company A advanced through Boulay to Momerstroff on November 28, where it was attached to the 377th Infantry. The next day at 1540, the company entered Germany for the second time, near the town of Ittersdorf, west of Saarlautern. Here the company had a noisy reception when shells landed in a field next to the OP, a bulldozer set off a mine at a road intersection, and a barracks 30 feet from the OP blew up. Missions were confined to harassing fires on Felsburg, the roads leading to the town, and high ground above it.
Company B was in position at Niederlimberg on December 5, in support of the 358th Infantry, 90th Division, which was preparing to make an assault crossing of the Saar River. At 0430 hours, December 6, the infantry crossed and attacked the towns of Dillingen and Pachten. At daybreak the enemy laid a heavy concentration of artillery on the footbridge, which was being screened by a smoke generator company, making it impossible for the "smoke" men to maintain the screen. At 1130 hours, B Company was called upon to take up this screen, and under difficult conditions maintained it until dark that night. The ground was extremely marshy and more than one mortar could seldom be kept in action at a time. Since this footbridge was the only one in use, the others being under extremely heavy shellfire, the success of the crossing was attributed in no small measure to the 4.2 mortars. During that day of firing, the company expended 86 rounds of HE and 1,070 rounds of WP.
Company C, meanwhile, was moved towards the Saar and took positions in Buren an Itzbach to support the north flank of an assault crossing of the river to be made by the 90th Division. In order to give closer support, the platoons moved up to the town of Rehlingen on the very banks of the river. The road to Rehlingen was "hot," but no hotter than the town itself. The enemy had excellent observation on all of Rehlingen and movement within the town had to be kept to a minimum. It was found necessary to keep all but a few of the jeeps in Buren and haul up ammunition at night, running the gauntlet by day whenever necessary. The FDC was maintained in Buren with OPs established across the Saar.
By December 1, D Company was again firing on German soil in the attack on the town of Bristen, Germany. Alt-Forweiler, Neu-Forweiler, and Holzmuhle were next on the list of fiercely contested German towns. From Neu-Forweiler, the company fired a smoke screen in support of the 378th Infantry attacking Lisdorf on the western bank of the Saar. Holzmuhle, like every other town along the Saar in this sector, proved to be no vacation spot. The company remained in firing position in this town from December 4 to December 22, 1944, and every day of its stay it was subjected at irregular intervals to shellings from across the river. Near misses in the area caused many flat tires and shrapnel holes in the vehicles.
On December 5, the infantry crossed the river to Ensdorf, on the east bank, and the initial assault units moved out in assault boats under cover of darkness without preparatory artillery fire. Lt Costello, FO, and PFC Leslie Palmer, with the assault company, were stranded in Ensdorf for three days when enemy artillery knocked out the only bridge. Street fighting and tank attacks raged in Ensdorf all during that period. Enemy strong points east of Ensdorf, and pillboxes dominating the town were fired upon, and diversionary smoke screens furnished.
The enemy fought bitterly to defend the Saar; thus, the mortar targets were numerous and varied. An immense slag pile on the east bank of the river, north of Ensdorf, was fired upon continuously to deny the enemy its use as an observation post. The town of Griesborn, and the eastern outskirts of Ensdorf were fired on many times. Attachment was changed on December 7 to the 358th Field Artillery Battalion, 95th Division, so that more closely coordinated fire could be achieved. Harassing fire was poured upon suspected enemy positions during the hours of darkness to keep enemy movements down to a minimum.
The battalion rear command post had meanwhile moved to Ebersviller, France from Fontoy. A report on ammunition difficulties was rendered to higher headquarters by the battalion command, Lt Col Lipphardt, together with several defective specimens in an effort to remedy the situation.
Company A first supported the bloody attack on Saarlautern from Oberfelsberg, where it took up position on December 1, moving the next day to a former military camp near Saarlautern, while still attached to the 377th Infantry. Here the company CP, FDC and OP were all established in one schoolhouse. Interdictory fire was directed on Saarlauten Roden, a suburb of Saarlauten, located on the east bank of the river. On December 4, the infantry pushed into Saarlautern Roden, supported with fire from the 4.2s. On December 7, the company moved into Saarlauten proper and here it was on the receiving end of numerous mortar and artillery TOTs, which caused several casualties.
Facing a very strong part of the Siegfried line, Company A was called upon for night and day missions. Sometimes as many as seven different targets at night were fired upon. HE and WP shells were used to burn houses, harass enemy OPs and supply routes, and button up the numerous pillboxes lining the banks of the Saar. The company also participated in many TOTs and fired missions observed by infantry and artillery personnel.
Company B remained in position at Niederlimberg for the greater part of December. During the two weeks following the infantry's crossing of the Saar on December 6, the mortars were kept busy night and day under difficult conditions, averaging nearly 2,000 rounds per day. In one 24-hour period, ending at midnight on December 8, the company fired 2,925 rounds in support of the 358th Infantry fighting across the river. Day-long screens to cover the engineer's attempts to span the river with footbridges, as well as screens to cover the movement of the ferries crossing with supplies and returning with wounded, were fired by the company. In addition to this, HE and smoke missions were furnished in support of the infantry. Night harassing and interdictory fires in Dillingen and its approaches, were also fired.
During this period, every man in the company not actually engaged in firing worked hauling ammunition, unloading the ammo trucks, and preparing the rounds for firing. On December 9, between 1615 and 1730 hours, 936 rounds were fired to engage 20 targets requested by the infantry regiment. Company B's firing was the heaviest in the battalion during the month of December; in the first seven days, almost 14,000 rounds were expended.
All during the company's stay at Niederlimberg, the mortar positions were under enemy artillery and mortar fire from across the river, but fortunately only light casualties were suffered. One serious loss was suffered, however, when a fire broke out in a storage room in which prepared rounds were stored, ready for use in night harassing missions.
General Van Fleet, 90th Division Commander, paid a visit to the company on December 12 to express his satisfaction and appreciation for the firing which the company had accomplished in support of the Dillingen operations. The pace of this day and night firing began to slacken somewhat on December 16, when only 429 rounds were fired.
During the period of its stay at Rehlingen, C Company fired more ammunition than in any other period of comparable length. The infantry had to fight to the utmost to preserve their bridgehead and every round fired in their support helped. Counterattacks were fierce and heavy and often supported by tanks. Pinpoint concentrations to stop these counterattacks were often necessary and were fired at all times of the day and night. Actual ammunition expenditures average close to 2,000 rounds daily. WP was used primarily as an anti-personnel and incendiary agent. Several local towns were reportedly set on fire. Most of the enemy were in pillboxes and thus not vulnerable to mortar fire. Jerry did run in a couple of mortars or a self-propelled gun for a while, fire, and then pull out. Concentrations of HE were particularly effective against these targets of opportunity. During this period, T/4 Harvey and T/5 Cleary were seriously wounded and Pvt Arnold was killed when a land mine exploded near a knocked-out 6x6 truck they were inspecting for spare parts. The telephone wire from Buren to Rehlingen was knocked out several times a day by enemy shells, but despite the necessity of working under heavy fire the communications section did a splendid job in keeping the lines in operation.
The companies were now entrenched firmly along the west bank of the Saar River, from Saarlautern towards Mondorf, when the plan of operations was changed from an offensive one to a holding action. The reason for the change in tactics was the "Battle of the Bulge" being waged further north.
In the face of fast-diminishing manpower and equipment, Hitler decided to stage one last counter-offensive, planning to carry the German line to the Meuse in two days and Antwerp in three weeks. If successful, 38 allied divisions would be cut off and the Germans given the respite they were seeking. Von Rundstedt, in an all-out gamble on December 16, struck at the weakest part of the allied line, south of Liege and northeast of Bastogne. By December 23, the Germans had broken through in an area extending just south of Monschau to Wiltz. Only the courage and steadfastness of American troops, like the 101st Airborne at Bastogne and 9th and 10th Armored, stopped the German steamroller in the Ardennes. Allied forces were quickly regrouped by General Eisenhower to squeeze the top and bottom of the Bulge, and a greater portion of Patton's Third, spearheaded by the 4th Armored Division, were pulled from the Saar Basin in the south to help relieve the pressure.
As a result, only a holding force was left along the Saar River, and the Siegfried Switch Line extending from Merzig west to the Moselle River. The infantry remaining was pulled back to the west bank of the Saar River into defensive positions, and only the bridgehead at Saarlauten was maintained. The front along the Saar, from north of Merzig to south of Saarlauten, was held by only two divisions all during those two hectic weeks. Artillery ammunition was low, and consequently the mortars were called upon for the bulk of the fire missions.
In line with the regrouping of troops for defense, Company A retired to a safer position on December 25, where it could still reach the majority of its targets, with part of the company going to Soughof, and the remainder to Schonbruck. The company remained in this static position for the remainder of the Ardennes offensive, firing for the most part only night harassing missions.
In B Company's sector, troops were withdrawn from Dillingen on December 21, the position being no longer tenable because of the thinly held front. The withdrawal operations were covered again by smoke screens provided by B Company's mortars and on the 22nd, after the last troops had been evacuated, the company moved out under one of the heaviest and most concentrated shellings it had yet received.
Only a small holding force was left along the river. Most of the 358th Infantry and supporting units, including B Company, moved north to the Siegfried Switch Line to take up positions along the section of the German border which formed the southern leg of the Saar-Moselle triangle.
From the 24th of December until the 22nd of January, when the initial attacks against the Saar-Moselle triangle were launched, B Company remained in static defense positions at Schuerwald and Gangelfange. Alternate positions were chosen as the division's plan called for a defense in depth in case of an enemy breakthrough of the thinly held lines. Christmas and New Years were celebrated by most of the battalion in the line, and as many festivities as possible were held in an effort to make the holidays pleasant in spite of the combat conditions. Packages from home were shared and somehow, somewhere, a little bottled cheer was obtained. Deep snow covered the ground and the weather became quite cold. On January 4, Cpl Penrod was the first man from B Company selected to go to the United States under the furlough plan.
The battalion rear command post did a splendid job in establishing and maintaining a rest camp at Fontoy, France shortly after Christmas. Here the battle-weary mortar men enjoyed a few days of much-needed rest, recreation and relaxation; each company sending back a few men at a time. Dances, movies, USO shows, super-chow, and the delights of the neighboring towns of Longwy and Villerupt did much to raise the men's morale.
On December 22, C Company moved to Mondorf into a defensive position to the north, on the Saar, opposite Merzig. Close cooperation with the infantry was established in the event of a counter-offensive in this sector. The very first night the company moved in, a heavy artillery barrage came down on the company CP. Since the barrage was very accurate, it was thought to have been observed by civilians in the town. Following this, all civilians were evacuated and the town became extremely quiet. The main event was the excellent Christmas dinner served by the mess sergeant and his crew.
On the same day, D Company moved north to the town of Itzbach, opposite Dillingen. During the period of the Ardennes offensive, this company with the aid of a few infantry and cavalry troops held a front along the Saar of approximately two and a half miles. The enemy had re-occupied the towns of Dillingen and Pachten after the withdrawal of the Americans, and re-manned all the pillboxes on the eastern bank of the Saar. Company D's entrance into Itzbach was greeted by a heavy shelling from enemy positions across the river. This was repaid many-fold in the days that followed.
A partly demolished railroad bridge used by enemy patrols to cross the river became one of the company's primary targets. One mortar at least was kept on it at all times and the company forward observers used it to show off the accuracy of the 4.2 to the artillery observers. Any movements seen by day or heard by night were subjected to immediate fire from the mortars. This was necessary since, if Jerry got across in force it would have meant a dangerous threat to the entire line. With the route across the bridge denied, the enemy attempted to send patrols across by boat. Although camouflaged, the FOs picked out the boats and directed sufficient fire on them to render them useless. At this time, an unusual mission was given to the companies. The mission was to fire intermittently on the Saar River to keep the ice broken, thus denying the Krauts another method of crossing the river.
Shortly after coming to Itzbach, the FO party ran into a patrol of Germans that had crossed the river and occupied the OP during the night. T/5 Stejskal, a member of the party, opened fire on the patrol, killing two of the enemy and wounding another. The OP party withdrew and the wooded area was subjected to fire by the 4.2s. No more enemy patrols were encountered until January 3, 1945, when the command post received a radio call from the 733rd Field Artillery Battalion forward observer asking for help. The OP had been surrounded by a strong enemy patrol and one of the FO party had been wounded. A patrol was immediately formed and it proceeded to the besieged observation post. The enemy was engaged and dispersed, resulting in two enemy soldiers wounded and one taken prisoner.
One of the mysteries of the war occurred on December 31. The enemy was observed in what appeared to be a formal guard mount in Pachten. What they were doing nobody knows; at any rate, it turned out fatally for the participants. Thirty-eight rounds landed in and around the ceremonial group, causing an estimated 15 casualties.
Cpl George Neu was the first man from D Company to be selected for a furlough to the United States; he was one of the original D-Day men who had been decorated for heroic achievement.
Company D's OP, overlooking the Saar, was used as a training ground for new officers of the battalion. Under the supervision of veteran forward observers, these officers were instructed in precision firing, the building of smoke screens, and in the use of artillery methods of observation, using the Germans and their installations for targets. Platoon and squad sergeants were also given an opportunity to see the results of their work. Lt Steffens, during one of these instruction periods, chose a cable used by the enemy to cross the river as a demonstration target, and managed to put it out of action with a round of HE; a fine feat of precision firing.
As the year came to a close, the battalion had expended 154,567 rounds of ammunition. Many outfits had made a great ceremony of firing their 100,000th round. The 81st was too busy firing to bother with such fol-de-rol.
On January 7, B Company was attached to the 301st Infantry, 94th Division, which took over the 358th sector. Part of the company moved up to Mittel Tunsdorf, Germany, on January 19, to support the attack of the 301st against the town of Orscholz on the following day. The attack lasted for two days and met with such fanatic resistance that the infantry suffered heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw under cover of a smoke screen maintained by B Company throughout the day. The mortar company then withdrew from Mittel Tunsdorf, which was shortly thereafter overrun by the enemy. The first operation against the Saar-Moselle triangle had been a failure.
On January 22, the company was attached to the 302nd Infantry, 94th Division, which had pushed a thin wedge along the eastern bank of the Moselle and was holding the narrow bridgehead opposite the company's position in Klienmacher, Luxembourg. The first operations against the triangle were slow and costly and for almost a month thereafter the battle was little more than a holding operation, while sufficient forces were being brought up for a large-scale attack.
Company C's next important move came on January 9, when a re-attachment to the 94th Division necessitated a move to the Siegfried Switch Line in the Saar-Moselle triangle. During this period, the platoons were in small towns of Perl on the Franco-German border. As attachments within the division changed, the platoons moved from town to town. The company command post was usually at Pillingen or Wochern, while the town of Borg was continually used for an observation post as well as a mortar position.
The 94th's job was at first to create a diversion, then attempt to take part of the line, keeping the crack 11th SS Panzer Division, still in the vicinity, from entering the Ardennes offensive.
Later, with the assistance of the 10th Armored Division, the 94th did accomplish a major breakthrough.
XIII. The Saar-Moselle Triangle
After Von Rundstedt's offensive into the Ardennes had been smashed, at heavy cost to the enemy, the Third Army concentrated on cleaning up the triangle formed by the Saar and Moselle Rivers. The 94th Division now had the support of the 10th Armored Division and other units released from the Bulge and from the Saarlautern area, among these B and C Companies of the 81st. Company A remained in the Saarlautern area during this operation. The Saar line itself was held by a mediocre Volksgranadier Division, reinforced by the crack 11th SS Panzer Division.
During the first days of the campaign, B Company supported the infantry from positions in Kleinmacher and later from Remich on the Luxembourg side of the Moselle. For the most part, the missions fired were smoke screens, although several targets of opportunity were effectively engaged. The numerous enemy pillboxes were most successfully attacked after smoke screens had been laid to cut off observation.
Lt Eggert was seriously injured by a land mine while on an FO mission across the Moselle River during an attack on January 26. No other casualties were suffered.
On the following day, B Company moved up to Remich in support of the 302nd Infantry's advance and went into a static position, remaining there until February 18. The 301st Infantry took over this section on January 28, and the company continued in support of the relieving regiment. The 2nd platoon moved across the river on January 31 to Wochern, Germany, in order to provide closer support. As a result of the spring thaws, all bridges across the Moselle north of Thionville had been washed out and the troops on the German side were virtually isolated, except for the bridge at Thionville.
S/Sgt Young was the first enlisted man in B Company to receive a direct commission as 2nd Lt, being awarded the appointment on February 1.
The first of the large-scale attacks to occupy the east bank of the Moselle north of Besch, and ultimately clear the triangle, began on February 7. The platoon across the river moved into Nennig in order to support the attack. This position was heavily shelled by the enemy during the time it was occupied. Several men were wounded and many vehicles temporarily put out of action. Sgt Byrnside was instantly killed on February 8 when an artillery shell burst beside him in the street. In spite of heavy counter-battery fire, the platoon maintained smoke screens and fired all other missions called for the infantry.
On February 13, Captain Herbert Levy left the company to go on temporary duty to the USA for rest and recuperation. He was still in the U.S. when the war in Europe ended.
As the companies swung north into the Saar-Moselle triangle, the battalion rear command post remained at Ebersviller, France and the rest camp was still maintained at Fontoy.
By January 22 the towns of Tettingen, Butsdorf, and Nennig, in C Company's sector, had fallen. This was the left flank of the line, but such success did not as yet constitute a major breakthrough. German shelling of the mortar positions was generally heavy. Until January 26 the platoons helped the infantry in beating off severe counterattacks. One infantry platoon leader personally expressed his appreciation for the effective fire furnished his unit.
Local attacks took place from January 26 to February 15. On this latter date, the town of Sinz was taken. Screening support and HE were fired intermittently all during these operations, as were emergency missions against strong counterattacks, supported by tanks.
Meanwhile, D Company's attachment had changed to the 26th Division Artillery, and on February 1, 1945, Brig Gen Ross, artillery commander, visited the mortar positions and the FDC. He was pleased with the operation of the FDC and complimented the entire company for efficiency of operation. Other visitors during this period were Brig Gen Bullene, Office of the Chief, CWS, Washington, D.C.; Col Day, Assistant Cml. Officer, ETOUSA; Col Powers, 12th Army Group Cml. Officer; Col Green, XX Corps Cml. Officer; and Capt Paulson, technical expert from Edgewood Arsenal, who arrived February 15, 1945, to make a survey of faulty ammunition that the mortar companies had been encountering. After an inspection, the group complimented Capt Marshall on the performance of his company.
Company D kept steady pressure on the enemy from its position in Itzbach until February 18. On that day, the company was notified of a change in Table of Organization, which necessitated the disbanding of the company and transfer of the personnel to A, B, C, and Hqs. companies. It was with reluctance, but a feeling of pride in a job well done, that D Company disbanded. All the men were determined to continue putting their best efforts forward in their new companies. Company D's contribution to the final destruction of Germany's armed might had been far from insignificant.
On January 29, A Company, still in the Saarlautern area, was attached to the 102nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 26th Division. Under this attachment the company was to have little spare time. 24-hour firing schedules were assigned, in addition to many missions fired by infantry observers, often within a hundred yards of friendly troops, but with excellent results. Since their ammunition was rationed, artillery observers fired the 4.2s considerably. To make the cycle complete, even the 81mm mortar observers fired several missions. It seemed everybody was firing the already overworked 4.2 mortars.
The company moved back to Saarlautern on February 13, leaving Schonbruck an entirely different looking place. Although the town was literally crawling with livestock when the company arrived, these strangely disappeared during the next few weeks; only a few decrepit looking goats being left to roam about. Evidently, the lady who, on being evacuated, cried, "Who will take care of my chickens?" had many a volunteer. "Representative" Will Brent of Mississippi kept an attic full of chickens but failed to promote eggs on a wholesale basis. Just before coming Saarlautern, Sgt Collum's squad set a record by firing over 1,000 rounds without once digging out the baseplate; only a move to another mortar position discontinued the score.
Here was probably the most boring period Company A experienced in combat. The time was marked by an increasing number of smoke screens for limited drives, and to shield tank and tank destroyer movements. Impounded ammunition was fired with lanyards. The rest camp at Fontoy proved to be a welcome escape from the drudgery of Saarlautern. The company attended a showing of a film on non-fraternization. Ironically enough, the only inhabitants of Saarlautern besides the American soldiers, were a herd of malodorous goats.
A week later, 36 men and three officers from the disbanded D Company joined this company and a third platoon was formed.
While at Saarlautern, a second enlisted man from A Company received a commission. S/Sgt Bartley Cranston, who had been with the company since June 1942, was commissioned a 2nd Lt.
During the tremendous difficulties encountered, the men of the disbanded D Company were transferred and supplies turned in and redistributed with a minimum of confusion while the companies were still in the line. The feat of reorganization while in the line is perhaps the first time that any such thing has been done. This was made possible by the efficient operation of the companies and battalion supply sections. This reorganization was officially completed on February 22.
The first of the great attacks to clear the Saar-Moselle triangle began on February 19. At 0400 hours, after an artillery barrage comparable to those which preceded the attacks in Normandy, the 301st Infantry jumped off as part of the division attack; by nightfall the infantrymen had secured their first objective, the town of Faha. The attack was highly successful, resulting in heavy enemy casualties, many prisoners taken, and large quantities of German heavy equipment destroyed or captured.
Both platoons of B Company displaced forward on February 20 from Sinz to Faha, after the attack had again progressed on schedule. By early evening, the infantry succeeded in occupying most of the objectives around Freudenberg. Company B was responsible in no small measure for the comparatively light casualties suffered by the infantry in the attack. Two smoke screens were laid down and kept going in the manner of a creeping barrage, behind which our infantry advanced.
The objective for the next day was the Saar River. Late in the evening the river was reached and B Company displaced forward to occupy the towns of Perdenbach and Kastel; the mortars were laid to cover the river in case of a counterattack.
The 301st Infantry received orders to attack again on the 22nd of February, to establish a bridgehead across the Saar. Before this could be done, however, the small town of Krutweiler, on the west bank of the Saar, still in German hands, had to be taken. The 9th Reconnaissance Group was assigned this task and the 2nd platoon of B Company fired a four-hour smoke screen to prevent observation on this town from the town of Saarburg and from pillboxes on the west bank. Results were excellent; not one of the attacking groups became a casualty from enemy fire although several were killed and wounded by S mines. Following this the company fired a screen enclosing the entire bridgehead from 1100 hours until dark, a feat which contributed greatly to the success of the operation.
The entire company crossed the river that night by ferry and by a bridge at Taben-Rodt; several shellfire was encountered all along this route. The company then set up in static positions in Serrig. Later, one platoon moved back across the river to Hamm. Because of a freak bend in the river, Hamm actually was further east than Serrig, and thus offered a more suitable position with better range coverage. From here the company fired numerous HE missions for the 301st Infantry and 5th Rangers on stubbornly resisting pockets of the enemy holding out in the broken and mountainous terrain. The opposing troops at this time were elements of the 11th SS Panzer Division and the 2nd Mountain Grenadier Division.
In C Company's sector on February 19, in conjunction with the 10th Armored, the 94th Division broke the line from the Moselle to Oberleuken, the latter being taken by the 5th Rangers. By the 20th, the armor had rapidly driven to Saarburg and the northern tip of the triangle.
February 22 found C Company in Dittlingen and Kastel where men assigned from disbanded D Company arrived. While on reconnaissance to Saarburg, Capt Boyer, Lt Yorke, and party, captured 69 prisoners. With the 1st platoon on the left and the 2nd on the right the advance continued to the Saar. The company CP moved to Saarburg while the 1st platoon, now attached to the armor, supported a Saar River crossing near Ockfen. The 2nd platoon meanwhile coordinated with the 87th Smoke Generator Company set up to fire a smoke screen south of Saarburg, near Hamm.
On the 26th of February, the 2nd platoon crossed the river and advanced to the east, stopping eventually near the town of Zerf on March 1 where exceptionally heavy resistance was encountered.
The 1st platoon crossed the river on the 27th by means of a ferry to Ockfen, and then advanced by short jumps toward Trier. By the 4th of March, this platoon had entered Trier while the 2nd platoon was firing on a hot corner near Zerf. The armor had swung abruptly to the north onto the main highway here, and the Germans, from good defensive positions, were counterattacking with SS troops, supported by mortars, rockets, and artillery. In fact, at one time, the SS troops cut the main supply route to the platoon.
On the 28th of February, Lt Col Lipphardt, battalion commander, established a forward battalion supply point in the triangle. This action provided the companies with a more accessible clearing point for the transmission of documents to the battalion rear and facilitated the movement of supplies and spare parts forward.
The 76th Division, north of the Moselle opposite Trier, sent a regiment across a bridge, which had been captured intact, to help clean up the Trier area; the 1st platoon was attached to this, the 417th Regiment, 76th Division.
The 10th Armored Division's push north to clear the triangle was highly successful. The German resistance was quickly broken and, on March 4, American troops held all the ground between the Saar and the Moselle. The success of this operation paved the way for the drive to the Rhine and the great enveloping operation, which destroyed the German XII Army Group.
At the end of this period the battalion had fired a total of 199,520 rounds.
XIV. The Drive to the Rhine
After the First Army had secured a bridgehead over the Rhine at Remagen, the Germans naturally expected Patton to cross the Rhine and start rolling from this point. Instead, he made a quick thrust, captured the junction of the Moselle and the Rhine, and then continued south into the rear of the German forces facing the Seventh Army. The XX Corps of the Third Army meanwhile attacked southeast from Trier and achieved a breakthrough as far as Kaiserlautern. This corps made contact with the armor attacking from the Moselle and thus trapped fragments of four German divisions. The companies of the 81st played an important part in this XX Corps operation. The drive began with the establishment of a bridgehead east of the Saar, near the Saarbur-Serrig area.
Company A remained in position in Saarlautern until March 12 when it moved to a point five miles east of Saarburg. Its mission was to support the 80th Division in punching a hole in the German defense line so as to permit the 14th Armored Division to race through and either drive the Germans back across the Rhine or trap them on this side of it.
The plan was to attack and take Schwartzwalder Hochwald, beyond which lay flat rolling plains ideal for tank operations. The attack, which started at 0300 on March 13, was preceded by a tremendous barrage from massed artillery. For two solid hours a stream of shells was thrown at the enemy. In one hour, A Company fired 353 rounds on the town of Greimerath; the WP caused several large fires.
The attack started slowly, but gradually picked up momentum. The company did not move until dark during the first evening, although subjected to heavy Nebelwerfer fire all that day. Mortar positions were so close to the front that two tanks were knocked out only a few hundred yards from where one platoon was set up. On March 15, the company displaced forward and fired WP on the town of Sheiden, which was completely destroyed. Artillery fire aided in burning this town.
By the next day, the speed of attack had increased to such a pace that the company made several moves. The roads all along the route of advance were littered with German dead, burned-out vehicles, and abandoned horse and wagon trains. That night the company stayed in Waldholzbach, where the enemy had abandoned several 120mm mortars and a horse-drawn supply caravan. It was in Waldholzbach that the house occupied by CP rear burned down (origin unknown). Sgt Jack Huntley, usually cool under enemy fire, ran upstairs and jumped out of a window. All he had to do was walk out the front door on the ground floor to escape the flames.
The retreat rapidly became a rout. By March 18 the company was making several moves a day and was not in contact with the enemy until reaching Kussel on the 19th. The withdrawing enemy troops attempted to escape across the Rhine by way of Ludwigshafen, but the air force tore up their columns at Bad Durkheim, strafing and destroying thousands of vehicles. Burned out vehicles, dead horses, and the litter that marks an army in flight could be seen for miles.
March 21 was a black day in the history of A Company. At 0710 hours, enemy planes attacked the company, which at the time was serving breakfast; strafed and dropped anti-personnel bombs over a wide area causing very heavy casualties. This occurred at Wachenheim, south of Bad Durkheim and west of Ludwigshafen. Lt Campbell, Lt Griffith, and Pvt Bell were fatally injured; Capt Baum, Lt Koresdoski and 35 men wounded 40 battle casualties within 10 minutes.
For its part in the drive to the Rhine, B Company was attached to the 94th Division. In preparation, the company moved out of position in the bridgehead across the Saar on March 9, remaining attached to the various regiments of this division until the banks of the Rhine were reached. The drive began on March 10 and progressed slowly at first, but gained momentum until marches of 10, 15, 20, and finally 30 to 40 miles a day were made without encountering serious opposition. The company captured so many prisoners that it became necessary to leave the ranking German officer or NCO in charge with instructions to surrender to the American rear elements. The speed of the advance was so rapid that it was impossible for the forward elements to handle the vast number of German prisoners, and long columns of them could be seen marching to the rear without benefit of guards.
After passing through Birkenfeld on March 19, part of the company set up and fired on some German vehicles and half-tracks, which could be seen from the mortar position on a hill about 900 yards away. The guns were laid directly and all fire was adjusted from the mortar position. This type of fire-adjustment was unique in the combat history of B Company. By this time, the last recourse of the fleeing Germans was to commit the remaining Luftwaffe in strength. Soon jet-propelled planes put in an appearance over the columns, strafing and bombing nearly every day. The 2nd platoon was subjected to several bombing and strafing attacks on March 21, causing injuries to several men. In spite of this, the platoon moved a total of 42 miles during that day. The next day, the 1st platoon fired the company's first mission on a target across the Rhine from the town of Moersch. Meanwhile, the 2nd platoon was firing from Oggersheim, in support of the attack on the important town of Ludwigshafen on the Rhine. The platoon position in Oggershiem, as well as all the adjoining streets, was constantly subjected to enemy artillery fire. It was here that the company suffered its last battle casualty west of the Rhine when Cpl Harvey Colome was killed by the freak burst of an 88 armor piercing shell exploding in the room directly above the cellar in which he was sleeping.
At the beginning of this period, the battalion rear command post remained at Ebersviller, France. Battalion forward command post consisted of three jeeps, the battalion commanding officer, battalion S-3 and battalion S-2. This party made contact with all companies daily. On the 13th of March, Brig Gen Rowan, Chief CSW, ETOUSA; Col Powers, Twelfth Army Group Chemical Officer; and Col Wallington, Third Army Chemical Officer, visited the battalion commander and staff. The rear group departed from Ebersviller on March 21, after a three and a half months stay, and proceeded to Urweiler, Germany. After a few days there, it moved on to Gonsenheim, a suburb of Mainz. Because of the rapid and long advances, supply men and mail orderlies put in long hours on crowded roads to bring vital supplies and precious mail to the rolling columns. Certain supplies were difficult to obtain and many a German vehicle was stripped of tires to replace those worn out on mortar vehicles; tires were fast becoming a critical item. During this time, firing was not too heavy since there was no longer a stable front.
After cleaning up the Trier area, Company C was attached to the "Yankee" (26th) Division for a part in the drive to the Rhine. First this division attacked down the east bank of the Saar, towards Merzig, while the company set up in towns on the west bank to cover the infantry across the river. This country was very rough, hilly, and difficult to fight through, and the platoons were kept busy firing against enemy personnel entrenched in the rocks and pillboxes.
A striking example of devotion to duty was displayed by communications Sgt Tierce who attempted to swim the fast-moving, ice cold Saar with a line tied to his waist, in order to get a communications wire across. The current almost carried Sgt Tierce away when he was within 10 yards of the opposite shore, and he had to be pulled back. However, the line was later carried across by other means.
The east bank of the Saar was cleared by March 17. The company crossed the river in support of two regiments of the 26th Division, which drove directly east towards Kaiserlautern and the Rhine.
Although resistance was scattered, small groups would at times hold out stubbornly. The main towns passed through by C Company in this rapid advance were Merzig, Urexweiler, Ottweiler, and Landstuhl. The infantry then swung south of Kaiserlautern into a great forest. The company joined regimental convoys and moved on northeast to Alzey through Winweiler and Kircheim Bolinden.
Although close to the Rhine, C Company never did reach it on this drive. On March 24, orders came from the battalion for all companies to return to an assembly area near St. Wendel, Germany. Enemy resistance west of the Rhine had been utterly destroyed and the battalion now prepared for the forthcoming Rhine crossing and the swift campaign to finish off the remnants of the German army still in retreat east of the great river. In driving from the Normandy coast to the banks of the Rhine, the battalion had expended a total of 208,641 rounds of ammunition.
XV. Mop Up to Austria
Mainz fell on the 23rd of March to Patton's Army, with armored units forging ahead to cut the escape routes and isolate remaining enemy forces. The Third Army, working from a bridgehead established south of Mainz, drove from the east bank of the Rhine, reaching Frankfurt by the 26th of March, and a point 70 miles northeast of Frankfurt by April 1. Such a good job had been done of eliminating the German armies on the west bank of the Rhine that this operation was carried out with comparative ease. Meanwhile the vital industrial Ruhr area had been encircled by elements of the First and Third Armies. This operation cut off the bulk of the enemy's remaining reserves.
General Eisenhower's strategy of great double enveloping movements to cut off and destroy the main German army groups fighting in the Ruhr and in the south beyond Frankfurt, was by now a complete success. In late April, American troops began mopping up operations in Austria, the campaign for Germany was virtually at an end. The campaign had been characterized by long, swift advances. Occasional short, sharp infantry battles had been fought, but in only a few of these was heavy mortar support required.
Company B was the first in the battalion to cross the Rhine, an advance party passed over a pontoon bridge near Bauscheim at 1600 hours on March 27, and the remainder of the company followed after dark that same night. The sight of navy crews running LCVPs across the river brought back vivid memories of D-Day. At Bauscheim the company was attached to the 905th Field Artillery Battalion, 80th Division. Moving with the artillery, the company advanced 27 miles to the Main River, near its confluence with the Rhine. Little resistance was encountered here, although heavy artillery fire landed in the town of Bischofsheim, where the company set up to support the infantry about to cross the Main.
The next day, B Company crossed the Main River to Delkenheim; the days that followed were spent moving along the roads in motor convoy, trying to keep up with the rapidly advancing forward elements. There were no front lines as such, and an advance of 40 to 50 miles a day was not unusual. The excellent Reichsautobahn made possible these advances, in spite of the great volume of traffic. The general route of advance, after crossing the Main, was northeast between Wiesbaden and Frankfurt, along the Reichsautobahn heading north towards Giessen, then northeast past Alsfeld and Hirsfeld, and finally swinging north to Kassel.
While approaching Kassel, near Guxhagen, on April 1, enemy tanks fired on the 1st platoon convoy, killing PFC Swenson. At this time, the company was attached to the 319th Infantry, 80th Division; several missions were fired in support of this regiment's attack on the Kassel area.
By April 7, the drive had carried so far forward that B Company moved into an assembly area in the city of Gotha and remained there until the tactical situation should again require the use of 4.2 mortars.
Two days later on April 9, Lt Bartley Cranston realized the forward observer's dream when the Germans launched a strong counterattack against the 319th Infantry then forming in Hocheim for an attack on the city of Erfurt. Lt Cranston directed HE on the attacking force, repulsing it and forcing the enemy to withdraw, leaving approximately 100 dead and wounded behind. The 1st platoon was at this time supporting the 318th Infantry's attack on Weimar. Upon its relief from this organization on April 12, the division artillery commander of the 80th Division commended B Company on the superior support it had furnished during the attachment.
Before leaving the Erfurt area, B Company personnel were shown the results of Nazi savagery at the Ohrdruf concentration camp. No one who saw this inhuman spectacle had any doubts thereafter as to what he was fighting against.
For B Company these were the last days of combat in the European theater. The company was placed on detached service with the AA Radar School, Fifteenth Army, at Chateau Reux, near Dinant, Belgium, as school troops. It remained at that station until shortly after hostilities ceased.
Company C was not very far behind B Company in crossing the Rhine. A few hours after B Company's crossing at Bauscheim, C Company crossed at Mainz and drove all night on the autobahn, passing through Frankfurt on the way.
The advance started off in a northeasterly direction towards Kassel, following the route of the 11th Armored Division. Occasionally, a German plane would bomb and strafe the column. The task force to which the company was attached was on the northern flank of the Third Army just beyond the Ruhr pocket. Prisoners were continually being taken by members of the company as bypassed Germans were everywhere.
On April 5, the company pulled into Eschwege, a large town southeast of Kassel where it was employed in guarding a hospital and large warehouses filled with military equipment; resistance was so slight that no mortar support was needed.
Meanwhile, on March 29 at 1740 hours, Company A crossed the 1,986-foot pontoon bridge at Mainz. That night the company stayed in Wiesbaden in luxurious dwellings, but was soon off again on a rapid advance toward Kassel. The nights were spent in houses, and in every position, there was the usual mad rush for eggs and then for the best bed. By April 5, the company had passed through and beyond Kassel.
On April 1, the battalion rear followed A Company's route over the bridge at Mainz. With the situation changing so rapidly, and the forward elements moving at such a fast pace, it was necessary for the weapons companies to be on the road almost 24 hours a day in order to remain in close support of the 80th and 65th Divisions. The Reichsautobahns provided an excellent route of attack for the allied steamroller. The battalion CP also made one-night stands through Eifa, Mosheim, and Gotha, finally setting up for a few days at Weimar.
Company A, still attached to the 80th Division, fired its first mission east of the Rhine on April 9, registering on the town of Tottelstadt. The next day, several successful missions were fired. The first platoon, located in the town of Ermstedt, spotted 50 of the enemy approaching the town. The mortars opened up at a range of 675 yards, killing or wounding at least 15 Germans; the remainder were captured by the infantry. The same day, the 2nd platoon fired close to 150 rounds of WP on the town of Salomonsborn, burning most of the town and routing the enemy.
The next few days were marked by long jeep rides; many pistols and other souvenirs were secured; roads were clogged with German prisoners, liberated soldiers, and displaced persons. The company passed through several fairly large cities. The first platoon fired 70 rounds into Erfurt and then entered the city on April 12. The 2nd platoon reached Weimar the same day. The following day found A Company in the famous glass manufacturing city of Jena; by the 16th the company reached the outskirts of Chemnitz.
Company C was attached on April 14 to the 76th Division, which drove eastward through Mulhausen and Langensalza. At this time, the 76th Division was closer to Berlin than any other unit of the U.S. Army. The general route of advance was directly east, passing north of Erfurt through Apolda, Zeitz, and Altenburg, then on towards Dresden to Lunzenau. Resistance was light, although one town was heavily shelled after it refused to surrender when issued an ultimatum. The guns were laid directly on the town from the mortar position while signal corps photographers took movies of the action. Intermittent strafing and bombing of towns and moving columns by enemy planes continued.
On or about April 18, Patton swung his forces south, using Chemitz for a hinge, and headed toward the Danube River and Austria. The XX Corps boundary changed and the mortar companies took part in the drive to the south.
Company A traveled all night on April 18 to join the 71st Division to which it was attached at Bamberg. The new plan was to drive south to the Danube, cross it, and then head for the so-called National Redoubt. A slight amount of opposition was met at Regenstauf where the bridge across the Regen River had been blown. Mortars were set up near a warehouse full of prefabricated parts for airplanes and missions fired on the woods southeast of the town. The Regen River was crossed that night, while the company was staying in Regenstauf. The next day the woods north of the Danube River were cleared, and the Danube reached by nightfall. As the infantry was crossing the river in assault boats, some of the company's HE commenced to land a few hundred yards in front of them. The inexperienced dough boys jumped from the boats into the stream, as this was their first contact with 4.2 shells.
On April 26, A Company fired 489 rounds in support of the Danube River crossing and the assault on Regensburg. A smoke screen was laid, HE and WP missions fired at the enemy dug-in along the river and at troops trying to escape from the city. The company crossed the Danube at 0145 hours on April 27, and set up just south of the river, close to the target area of the previous day, about four miles east of Regensburg. Enemy dead lay where they had fallen and equipment was scattered everywhere.
While in the process of moving south, C Company stopped at Apolda. Many of the men had an opportunity to visit the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar. Here, as in Ohrdruf, was concrete evidence of the inhumanity of the Nazi machine.
The move south was made through Coburg, to a town near Bauking, from which the drive continued cross-country towards Austria. The attachment was changed to the 71st Division, which the company supported until the end of hostilities. Just prior to this, S/Sgt Conroy of C Company received a battlefield commission as 2nd Lt.
The company passed near Nurnberg on its way down to the Danube, northeast of Regensburg. Here a crossing was easily made. Straubing and Landau came next. At Landau, the Isar River was crossed by means of a wrecked railroad bridge. The drive met negligible resistance and continued straight on towards Austria.
As the battalion neared the Austrian border, all companies were attached to the 71st Division. Company A and Company C crossed the Inn River on successive days, May 2 and 3. The FO for Company A observed enemy personnel digging in near the river, obviously intending to defend it, but after nine HE shells landed nearby they soon abandoned this idea. A smoke screen was laid, which contributed to the successful crossing of the river. This was the last mission that A Company fired in the European war.
Passing Wels, the company continued on to the Enns River, there to await the Russians and V-E Day. The final combat positions of A Company were in Garsten and Ternberg, Austria, for the 1st and 2nd platoons, respectively.
On May 3 at 1435, the 1st platoon, C Company, crossed the Inn River into Austria, near the town of Ernig. The 2nd platoon followed foot troops, crossed a little later over a hydro-electric dam which served as a bridge. The company moved on in the same general direction and crossed the Traun River, near Lambach, on April 5. The previous evening, a few rounds were fired at a column of retreating Germans, but for fear of destroying a bridge a cease fire order was given.
The night of May 5 found the whole company near the Enns River, the boundary between the U.S. and Russian troops. The battalion command post crossed into Austria over the Inn River on May 4. At the cessation of hostilities on May 8, 1945, the battalion, less B Company, was along the Enns River, one of the meeting points between the American and Russian forces. In the fight for liberation of Europe, the 4.2 mortars of the 81st had fired 212,572 rounds.
The war in Europe was over! The day everyone had been waiting for had arrived. The long, hard, bloody road from the beaches of Normandy, across the continent of Europe, was ended. Every man celebrated in his own way, but in the hearts and minds of each and every one was a thought for those comrades who had given their lives to make this day possible.
Shortly after V-E Day, the battalion was detailed on military government work in Austria and Germany. The battalion was for a time the occupying force in Braunau, Hitler's birthplace, and neighboring towns. While there, the battalion was attached to the 5th Field Artillery Group, the companies occupying the towns of Degerndorf, Brannenburg, Oberaudorf, Raubling, and Redenfelden, near Rosensheim, in the Bavarian Alps. Some members of the battalion were sent home for discharge under the point system. The rest were sweating it out. But no matter where the future finds them, the men of the 81st will always be as they have been in the past, Equal to the Task!
AppendixRecapitulation of casualties
Prisoners of war
Combat days and rest periods
Commendation from V Corps
Commendation from 90th Inf Div
Recapitulation of casualties
The following is a recapitulation of casualties for the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion from the 6th of June, 1944 to the present time:
Battle Casualties Type Officers Enlisted Men Total Killed in Action 7 26 33 Died of Wounds 3 5 8 Prisoners of War 2 2 4 Seriously Wounded 8 26 34 Slightly Wounded 8 101 109 Seriously Injured 1 4 5 Slightly Injured 0 9 9 Totals 29 173 202 Non-battle casualties: Officers 20, Enlisted Men 196
Divisions supported by companies of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion:
First U.S. Army, V Corps
1st Div 2nd Div 5th Div 35th Div 80th Div (inactive)
First U.S. Army, XIX Corps
4th Div 28th Div 29th Div 30th Div 90th Div
Third U.S. Army, XX Corps
5th Div 7th Armd Div (inactive) 10th Div 26th Div 65th Div 71st Div 76th Div 80th Div 83rd Div (inactive) 90th Div 94th Div 95th Div
The following is a recapitulation of ammunition expenditure from 6 June 1944 to 8 May 1945, inclusive:
HE WP FS Total Company A 30,685 17,335 - 48,020 Company B 30,011 33,615 - 63,626 Company C 36,889 23,329 367 60,585 Company D* 19,509 30,832 - 40,341 Grand Totals 117,094 95,111 367 212,572
*Note: Co D was disbanded 22 Feb 1945
Prisoners of war
The companies of the 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion captured the following number of prisoners between the 6th of June 1944 and 8 May 1945, inclusive:
Company Officers Enlisted Men Total Hq 10 238 243 A 5 126 131 B - 185 185 C 3 376 379 D - 17 17 Totals 18 942 960
Note: The number of prisoners taken by the weapons companies is much higher than shown, but only those shown on historical records are in the total. It is estimated that an additional 1,000 prisoners were taken by the companies and immediately turned over to the infantry to be marched back to a cage.
Combat days and rest periods
The number of days each company was on line:Company A - 313 Days
Company B - 297 Days
Company C - 318 Days
Company D - 246 Days
Rest periods and places for each company
St. Martin Don, France: 7-10 Aug, 4 days Ger, France: 17-19 Aug, 3 days Sees, France: 23-24 Aug, 2 days Porcher, France: 24 Sep-1 Oct, 8 days Morfontaine, France: 3-6 Nov, 4 days Urweiler, Germany: 25-26 Mar, 2 days Total 23 days
St. Martin Don, France: 7-10 Aug, 3 days Ger, France: 17-19 Aug, 3 days Sees, France: 23-24 Aug, 2 days Brehain-la-Ville, France: 4-6 Nov, 3 days Urweiler, Germany: 25-26 Mar, 2 days Total 13 days
St. Martin Don, France: 5-9 Aug, 5 days Ger, France: 17-19 Aug, 3 days Sees, France: 23-24 Aug, 2 days Bievres, France: 27-28 Aug, 2 days; 20-22 Sep, 3 days Leitersweiler, Germany: 25-27 Mar, 3 days Total 18 days
St. Martin Don, France: 7-12 Aug, 6 days Ger, France: 17-19 Aug, 3 days Sees, France: 21-24 Aug, 4 days Bievres, France: 27-28 Aug, 2 days Disbanded 22 Feb 1945 Total 15 Days
HEADQUARTERS V U.S. Corps
Office of the Commanding General
TO: Commanding Officer, 81st Chemical Battalion
THRU: Commanding General, First U.S. Army, APO 230
1. Upon relief of the 81st Chemical Battalion from attachment to the V Corps, I desire to express to you, and through you to the officers and men of your command, my thanks and appreciation for the excellent manner in which they functioned while under this corps.
2. The record of the 81st Chemical Battalion during the campaign for Western Europe has been indeed an enviable one. The battalion entered combat with this corps on D Day and has served uninterruptedly with it for 104 days. It was in the line continuously for the first 60 days of combat. Notwithstanding the unfortunate loss of its commanding officer and a large portion of its equipment during the landing on the French Coast, it has at all times been ready for any mission which it has been called upon to perform. It participated in the decisive assault on Hill 192 on 11 July 1944 and its effective support of the 2nd Infantry Division contributed in a large measure to the success of that attack. It has operated in support of artillery as well as infantry. Elements of the battalion during the above period have been attached to ten different divisions. It has sustained more than 100 casualties, and 53 of its members have received individual decorations. It has won the coveted Presidential Unit Citation for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy.
3. No words of mine could add to the prestige of an organization with such a record. It is indeed a history of which any organization of the United States Army can be justly proud. I accept its loss to the corps with regret. My best wishes for your continued success go with each and every one of you.
EDWARD H. BROOKS
Major General, U.S. Army,
HEADQUARTERS 90TH INFANTRY DIVISION
Office of the Commanding General
APO 90, U.S. Army
19 January 1945
TO: Commanding Officer, 81st Chemical Battalion, APO 403, U.S. Army.
THRU: Commanding General, Third U.S. Army, APO 403, U.S. Army
1. Companies "A," "B" and "C" of the 81st Chemical Battalion rendered extremely valuable services to this division from 20 August, 1944 to 7 January, 1945.
2. During the Maizieres-les-Metz operations Company "A" fired a total of 12,054 rounds HE and WP from 15 October to 1 November, aiding materially in the capture of that town. During the Moselle River crossing Company "A" fired a total of 4,537 rounds of WP and HE from 9 November to 18 November. During one twenty-four hour period this company maintained a smoke screen about two thousand yards wide during daylight hours in addition to other missions called by the supported unit. During period from 8 October to 4 November, Company "B" fired a total of 8,447 rounds of WP and HE in the Gravelotte area.
3. In the Saar River crossing 6 December to 22 December, 1944, "B" and "C" Companies rendered most valuable services. Especially were these companies helpful in this action with their highly successful smoking operations. During this action "B" Company fired a total of 23,886 and "C" Company fired a total of 17,862 rounds of HE and WP.
4. The exemplary manner in which officers and enlisted men of this battalion have supported the 90th Infantry Division under all types of weather, terrain and enemy action has been outstanding. The constant close cooperation of Lt Col Jack W. Lipphardt, Battalion Commander, and his staff, was of the highest type.
5. The support furnished by these companies of the 81st Chemical Battalion contributed greatly to the successes of the 90th Infantry Division. Their future assignment in support of this division would be most welcome.
J. A. VAN FLEET
Major General, U.S. Army
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