Action at Vossenack
On the Vossenack ridge the harassed company commanders of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, their men unnerved by three days and four nights of intense enemy shelling, were apprehensive of what dawn would bring on 6 November. As daylight came the men of Company G, in the most exposed positions of all on the northern portion of the ridge (Map XI), became suspicious of a strange silence. The Germans had been showering them every morning before dawn with a concentrated artillery barrage, and today there was no fire. The mysterious portent of the quiet made some of the riflemen almost yearn for the usual shelling. They knew that their comrades in other units were as nerve-shattered as they were themselves, and they knew also that a gap of over a hundred undefended yards separated them from Company F. In ones and twos and threes some Company G troops had been sneaking back into town during the darkness.
There was a burst of small arms fire. One of the men let go a piercing scream; then again everything was quiet. About thirty minutes later, as daylight increased, German guns spoke, and artillery shells plummeted in upon the shell-punctured nose of the ridge. Small arms fire, whether from the distance or from nearby the Americans could not tell in the confusion, joined in. The men of Company G had enough. Panic-ridden, many of them suddenly grabbed wildly at their equipment and broke for the rear. Word spread quickly that the Germans were attacking and the company could not hold. Those who held initially saw others running back toward town, and they too fled. The disorderly retreat became a snowball, carrying with it any who chanced to be in its path.
The Company F commander, Lieutenant Kauffman, witnessed the retreat from his own command post in a building near the eastern edge of town and immediately realized that it endangered the situation of his own unit. His platoons on the right of Company G were receiving small arms fire from the wooded draws to the front and he feared that with the defection of Company G his men might be wiped out or captured. There could be no doubt that the Company G position had collapsed. Kauffman ordered his platoon leaders to withdraw their men to the line of buildings and there to hold. The platoons began to withdraw in small groups, but there was no control. The mushrooming effect of the retreat had spread too quickly, and the men could not be stopped when they reached the houses. Although no one
professed to have seen any enemy soldiers, l the troops of both Company G and Company F were convinced the Germans were attacking.
In the Company E command post, farther to the west in Vossenack, Pfc. Russell G. Ogborn had been operating the company SCR 300, forming a relay between the battalion command post and Company G. The latter unit`s radio would not reach battalion. Ogborn heard the Company G commander, Capt. George N. Prestridge, report that the enemy was attacking and that his company was withdrawing. A few minutes later the Company F commander broke in on the channel to say that Company F, too, was pulling out.
The Company E command group rushed outside its cellar command post. Coming down the road from the east were panicky men from all four companies of the battalion, pushing, shoving, throwing away equipment, trying madly to out race the enemy artillery fire and each other down the main street. Some were helping the slightly wounded to run, but when the more seriously wounded collapsed they were left where they had fallen. Although the Company E officers tried to question the men in their flight, they could discern only one coherent fact: withdrawal.
At his 2d Platoon command post, Lieutenant Barrilleaux, the Company E commander, located Lieutenant Kauffman. The two officers could reach only one decision, that with everyone pulling back it would be useless to try to hold. Lieutenant Barrilleaux sent messengers to his other platoons telling them to withdraw.
The machine gunners of Company H, who had been with the rifle companies, attempted to cover the withdrawal of the riflemen and then joined the flight themselves. When the company commander, Capt. Charles L. Crain, realized the ubiquitous nature of the withdrawal, he ordered his 81-mm. mortar men to move back also. Artillery fire hit the mortar men as they started out, causing a number of personnel casualties and the loss of four mortars.
German soldiers still had not appeared. Sergeant Cascarano, whose squad had defended a draw on the northeast in the Company F sector, said he saw no enemy soldiers at all. Lieutenant Condon, the Company E executive officer, said it was his opinion that there was either no enemy attack or one too small to have caused such a rout. The men, Lieutenant Condon thought, had simply reached the limits of endurance.2
Armor in Vossenack
When the rout of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, from the Vossenack nose began, available armor in the town consisted of the 1st Platoon, Company C, 707th Tank Battalion, whose tanks were under Lieutenant Quarrie with Company F on the northeast, and the 1st Platoon, Company B, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, whose destroyers were under Lieutenant Davis on the eastern edge of town. Arriving at just about the time the attack supposedly hit was the 1st Platoon, Company B, 707th Tank Battalion, under Lieutenant Anderson. This
unit had come up on the north side of town into the Company G positions and was under orders to relieve Lieutenant Quarrie`s platoon.
Word of the supposed German attack reached Captain Granger, Company B, 707th,commander, in Germeter soon after the retreat began. He started forward in his command tank and was followed some fifteen to thirty minutes later by his company`s 3d Platoon. The remaining two platoons of Company C, 707th, consisting now of about six or seven tanks, including one taken over by Captain West as his command tank, started forward shortly after Captain Granger. The remaining platoon of tank destroyers, the 3d, and the remaining tank platoon of Company B, 707th, the 2d, stayed in ready positions near Germeter. Thus, one full-strength platoon of tank destroyers and five platoons of tanks (less about five vehicles)were either in Vossenack when the infantry retreat began or became available shortly thereafter.
When the infantry began to fall back, Lieutenant Davis` tank destroyer crewmen questioned a number of the fleeing men but could determine only that there were no more men left in the line. The tank destroyers remained in position for approximately thirty minutes after the retreat began; their crews saw no enemy attack materialize nor any enemy attempt to occupy the abandoned 112th Infantry positions. Lacking infantry for protection, Lieutenant Davis received permission to withdraw his platoon from Vossenack to positions west of the town. It moved out shortly after 0815, thus leaving no tank destroyers in the town.
On the northeastern nose of the ridge, Lieutenant Quarrie`s tank platoon of Company C, 707th Tank Battalion, knew little about the situation except that everything was suddenly confusion. Lieutenant Anderson`s tanks fired as they approached and thus added to the turmoil. Quarrie`s men felt that this fire was wild and at random. The two platoons nevertheless exchanged positions and Quarrie`s platoon, except for Sergeant McGraw`s tank, which had backed into a shell hole, withdrew to Germeter. Unable to move his tank, Sergeant McGraw radioed Captain West and was told to have Lieutenant Anderson`s platoon take his crew back to Germeter. Anderson evidently interpreted this message to mean that his entire platoon was to take McGraw`s crew back. He placed one man from the crew in each of his tanks and began withdrawing slowly, firing occasionally in withdrawal at gun flashes on the Brandenburg-Bergstein ridge.
As this withdrawal took place, Captain West, arriving in his command tank, drove up beside Lieutenant Anderson`s tank and shouted: "You shot your own infantry in the back, and now you`re running off and leaving them." West ordered Anderson`s tanks back to the nose of the ridge, accompanying them himself. When they approached the initial positions, heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire seemed to register directly on them, and there were no infantry, friendly or enemy, in sight. Captain West turned his tank around and yelled to Lieutenant Anderson: "Let`s get the hell out of here."
The next tanks to move forward to Vossenack in answer to the message of enemy attack were those of Captain Granger, Company B, 707th, and his 3d Platoon under2d Lt. Danforth A. Sher-
man. Lieutenant Sherman`s tank developed a hydrostatic lock at the start and would not budge. The platoon leader joined another crew and the remaining five tanks moved to the Vossenack church, then continued east via a route south of the town. Arriving in the eastern end of the town, the crewmen saw three or four tanks of Company C (evidently those of Lieutenant Quarrie which had been relieved by Lieutenant Anderson) withdrawing west along the north side of town; but they could see no infantry. Captain Granger now received a request by radio from Lieutenant Anderson for permission to move back to Germeter with some wounded and with the crew of Sergeant McGraw`s disabled Company C tank. The captain approved and Anderson`s tanks started back (probably in the movement to which Captain West objected) . Granger saw Anderson`s platoon making its withdrawal, drove up to West`s tank, and asked the situation. Standing in the turret of his tank, West replied, "Counterattack." Granger could see no signs of enemy attack other than heavy mortar and artillery fire. Just at that moment a heavy shell came in close, and Captain Granger ducked. Rising again, he saw that the hatches on the turret of Captain West`s tank were gone and that the Company C commander had been instantly killed.
As Lieutenant Anderson`s platoon continued its withdrawal, Lieutenant Sherman`s 3d Platoon, Company B, remained among the buildings in the eastern end of Vossenack, and Captain Granger himself drove into the center of town to search for the infantry command post. Meanwhile, Company C`s understrength 1stand 3d Platoons had come into town.
Lieutenant Leming soon withdrew his 1st Platoon back to Germeter, and the 3d,whose commander, Lieutenant Novak, still occupied his immobilized tank near the Vossenack church, halted in the vicinity of the church. Lieutenant Sherman radioed Captain Granger from the eastern end of Vossenack that "we`re all alone out here," and Granger in turn radioed Anderson in Germeter to bring his platoon back up. Towing Lieutenant Sherman`s disabled tank, Lieutenant Anderson brought his platoon forward again, moved south of the church, and then turned east again to join Lieutenant Sherman`s platoon. An enemy tank or self-propelled gun scored a direct hit on one of his tanks, setting it a fire. The remainder of the platoon continued to the east, firing as it progressed. Again the Company C tankers still in town felt that this fire was indiscriminate and claimed it hit among those of the infantry who had not reached the church.
Lieutenant Davis` tank destroyer platoon, which had withdrawn early from Vossenack, received orders at approximately 0900 to return to town to act as overwatchers for the tanks. Moving back in and attempting to find cover, one of the destroyers backed into a building on the north side of the main street and crashed into a cellar. Its gun pointed straight into the air like an antiaircraft weapon. The remaining three guns withdrew once again to Germeter.
Thus, by about 1000, when the infantry had abandoned the eastern half of Vossenack, two platoons of Company 707th (Lieutenant Sherman`s and Lieutenant Anderson`s), were in the eastern edge of town. In the vicinity of the church was the 3d Platoon, Company
707th, under Lieutenant Novak, who
himself operated from his immobilized tank on the southern edge of town. The remainder of both Companies B and C was in the rear near Germeter, along with two platoons of Company B, 893d `Tank Destroyer Battalion. The other platoon of tank destroyers still waited at the entrance of the main supply route into the Kall woods in its effort to join `Task Force R in Kommerscheidt.3
Engineers in Vossenack
When Captain Lutz, Company B, 20th Engineers, who still had two engineer platoons and his company headquarters in Vossenack, saw the disorderly infantry withdrawal early on 6 November, he sent his administrative officer, 2d Lt. Henry R. Gray, to the infantry command post to determine the situation. Lieutenant Gray evidently had not reached the command post before he met an infantry captain who told him that he and his small group of men were the last one around, and they were leaving.
By this time the engineer battalion commander, Colonel Sonnefield, had arrived at the Company B command post. He told Captain Lutz to move his men back to Germeter, collect the infantry weapons they had left in the rear, and then take up a defense in Vossenack. Sonnefield also ordered Company A, 20th Engineers, to pull out of its defenses at the entrance of the supply route into the Kall woods and return for its heavier weapons.
The situation was chaotic, and as Captain Lutz`s engineers left town it seemed that they were the last to leave. Tanks also were withdrawing. Just outside of Vossenack an artillery shell landed near the column and knocked Captain Lutz unconscious. When he revived and crawled forward to where Lieutenant Gray was lying, he found the lieutenant dead.4
The Situation at Kommerscheidt
The defenders of Kommerscheidt were also having their difficulties on 6 November. With the coming of dawn came the routine thunder of German shelling, and through the early morning mist the men could see at least three enemy tanks moving toward them from Schmidt and a large group of German infantry milling around on the dominating Schmidt hill. Radio appeals for artillery fire brought what many felt to be their most effective artillery support of the period, preventing the German infantry from joining the big tanks in the attack. The tanks themselves advanced no farther than the northern edge of Schmidt but from there poured direct fire into the houses and foxholes of Kommerscheidt. On the left flank in the Company A positions at least seven men were killed by this fire, and Company A`s 3d Platoon was forced to move its command post when tracers set fire to the building that housed it. Three men from Company L were killed in their foxholes by the shelling, and a round from one of the tanks tore through the Company L command post, wounding the first sergeant and killing the company commander`s runner.
The tank and tank destroyer support in Kommerscheidt occasionally peeked
over the shallow defilade provided by the northern part of the hill and fired at the German tanks, but without noted success. Some of the infantrymen felt their armor was letting them down, but others took into account the dominant positions held by the Germans. It was clear to almost all that the friendly armor was accomplishing at least one thing favorable: its presence made the enemy infantry seem reluctant to accompany their own armor in the attacks. In their turn the American infantry showed an increasing tendency to desert their foxholes unless their armor was up forward. A number left their foxholes now, but the exodus was stopped before it could spread.
Word passed among those who had not heard it during the night that small arms fire was originating from the Kall valley to their rear-a development that meant they were surrounded. In the Company C, 112th Infantry, positions at the northern woods line the firing in the river valley was more apparent, and the men feared they would be attacked from that direction.
The enemy tanks soon seemed to tire of their target practice, and the situation once again settled down to intermittent artillery and mortar fire. But this fire was enough to keep the riflemen pinned to their holes, each man living out his personal hell within himself. It was cold and wet, and men were forced to dispose of excrement in K ration boxes, pieces of paper, or handkerchiefs and throw it out when the chance came, for it was worth a man`s life to be seen.5
Task Force R
The 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry, which was to constitute the main body of Task Force R in the attempt to retake Schmidt, crossed the Kall River about 0815. Almost three hours later the troops finally arrived at the Company C, 112th Infantry, positions along the woods line north of Kommerscheidt. They lost two officers and fifteen men out of their already-reduced ranks to enemy small arms and artillery fire as they fought their way across the river gorge. Making contact with Colonel Peterson, the companies were told to dig in temporarily along the woods line. Peterson felt after seeing the battered battalion that was to be his main striking force that the planned attack would in all probability fail; he nevertheless fully intended to go through with it.
In order to avoid the exposed open ground north of Kommerscheidt, Lt. Col. William Tait, the infantry battalion commander, his S-2, and S. Sgt. Martin J. Joyce, intelligence sergeant, chose a route along the edge of the woods to the southwest and moved on toward the 112th battalions in the town. They had reached a shallow draw just northwest of Kommerscheidt when enemy riflemen in a square patch of woods beyond opened fire. Both Colonel Tait and his S-2 were wounded. The S-2 was unable to seek cover because of his wounds, and the Germans fired again, killing him with a bullet through the head. Only the timely intervention of Sgt. Marshall F. Pritts`s tank destroyer saved Sergeant Joyce and the battalion commander, whose right arm had been shattered by a bullet. As the tank destroyer fired into the woods, one German was killed and
two others came out with their hands up, one of them pointing to the S-2`sbody and whimpering that he had not shot that wounded man.
The tank destroyers of the 2d Platoon, Company B, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, which were to supplement the armor of Task Force R, had tried to secure infantry assistance in moving down the Kall trail. Such assistance had been refused, and the platoon decided to go on alone. Just inside the woods the armored troops met a group of engineers who told them the road was blocked by damaged weasels and mined. The destroyers pulled back to the edge of the woods southeast of Vossenack and waited. Company D, 707th Tank Battalion, the light tank company which was also to join Task Force R, apparently never left its defenses with the 28th Reconnaissance Troop southwest of the 110th Infantry positions.6
Tank Demonstration in Kommerscheidt
About noon the enemy tanks in Schmidt resumed their deadly harassment of the Americans in Kommerscheidt. Again infantrymen began to leave their positions. Some men were so shaken and unnerved by this time that the mere sound of an enemy tank racing its motor caused them to run for the rear. With more and more infantrymen pulling out, the situation was fast becoming critical. In an effort to stabilize the situation, Colonel Peterson ordered the tanks and tank destroyers to take the German tanks under fire. In compliance the 1st Platoon of tank destroyers and Lieutenant Fleig`s tanks on the right of town proposed a maneuver whereby the tanks would move up the crest of the hill to draw fire from the enemy tanks as the destroyers made a flanking movement along the woods line to the southwest. While the enemy`s attention was directed at Fleig`s tanks, the destroyers were to sneak in on his flank.
Lieutenant Fleig`s three tanks moved out and almost immediately began to draw fire from Schmidt. The tanks returned the fire, but the tank destroyers did not follow. The platoon leader, Lieutenant Leonard (whom Captain Pugh had thought missing but who had turned up later in the command post of the 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry, with slight wounds), dismounted in the face of small arms fire from an enemy pillbox and attempted to lead his destroyers into position. Still they failed to come up. Fleig saw Leonard move back to his vehicles and gesture at the gun commanders to follow him; again nothing happened. Captain Pugh, the tank destroyer company commander, said later that the destroyers had bellied on the hidden stumps of a hedgerow that ran across a field to the southwest of the town. Lieutenant Fleig withdrew his tanks to the slight defilade of the shallow draw. The proposed demonstration had not gone as planned, but in exchange for jammed turrets on two of the American tanks one German tank was claimed destroyed and the enemy tanks had ceased firing.7
IMMOBILIZED ARMOR near the beginning of the Kall trail between Vossenack and Kommerscheidt. Kommerscheidt is the village on the horizon.
Except for continuation of the heavy shelling, there was no more German action against Kommerscheidt for the day. The defenders became more and more conscious of the enemy`s excellent observation, both from Schmidt and Harscheidt to the south and southeast and from Brandenberg and Bergstein to the north; and enemy shelling was costly. Infantry casualties mounted, and two more tanks suffered jammed turrets. Only three tank destroyers remained fully operational. The most seriously hit was Sergeant Wilson`s; one of its motors was knocked out and the vehicle immobilized. Adopting it toward late afternoon as his company command post, Captain Pugh had the crewmen of his damaged destroyers dig in nearby as riflemen. One crewman who had been wounded was placed under the destroyer for protection. About fifteen minutes later an artillery shell landed less than ten feet from the rear of the vehicle, killing him.8
The Planned Attack on Schmidt
The late arrival of the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry, in the Kommerscheidt area ruled out the possibility of launching the Task Force R attack against Schmidt at the scheduled time, noon of that day. Colonel Peterson and the taskforce commander, Colonel Ripple, still planned the attack, although the infantry commander, Colonel Tait, was seriously wounded, the S-2 was dead, the S-3 had been wounded the day before and had not even come forward, and the battalion itself had less than 300 effectives. And only the tanks and tank destroyers then in Kommerscheidt could be expected to be present as armored support.
Colonel Peterson issued hasty orders about noon and sent the infantry company commanders to reconnoiter their Kommerscheidt line of departure. There the battalion executive officer, Maj. Robert C. Reynolds, was wounded in the righthand and chest and the Company I commander was killed. Such misfortune convinced Colonel Peterson that without supplies, without armor, and with an understrength infantry force, an attack on Schmidt was more futile than ever. He therefore ordered the 110th Infantry battalion to consolidate its positions with Company C, 112th Infantry, thus strengthening the American defense in depth, and canceled the attempt to retake Schmidt.
That night Kommerscheidt was quiet except for the sound of enemy artillery. During lulls in the shelling the fatigued riflemen could hear enemy tanks churning about to their front.9
A New Defense Attempted in Vossenack
There had never been any order originating from headquarters of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, for the riflemen on Vossenack ridge to withdraw; but in early morning (6 November) when the battalion officers saw men streaming by the command post, they knew what must have happened. Running into the street, they attempted to halt the pell-mell re- treat. The few men they managed to stop were sent into position on an east-west line running generally across the CP building about a hundred yards west of
the church. But many men continued toward the rear, and many of those who were stopped resumed their flight as soon as the officers had turned their backs. The battalion adjutant and Captain Pruden, the executive officer who was the 2d Battalion`s acting commander because of the combat exhaustion of Colonel Hatzfeld, divided responsibility for the line at the main street, each endeavoring to build up a line on his side of the street.
The 2d Platoon, Company E, under 1st Lt. Clifton W. Beggs, had been among the last to leave the eastern half of Vossenack. Beggs attempted to build up another line near the church. In the attempt at least two of his men were wounded. Lieutenant Barrilleaux then arrived with word that the line was being formed near the battalion CP. The platoon., one of the few groups which had maintained any semblance of order and command in withdrawal, followed the company commander`s directions.
Company H managed to salvage two of its .30-caliber machine guns, one without a water jacket and the other without a tripod, and set them up along the CP line. Tied in with them was the fire of a .50-caliber machine gun still in position near by.
Sergeant Cascarano, along with the platoon guide of his Company F platoon, held up at the new defensive line. The two men occupied the same foxhole until an intense German artillery concentration hit their area and they looked up to see a number of men still running down the road to the rear. With the impression that everyone was leaving again, they joined the retreat, stopping only when they reached the battalion rear aid station in Germeter where several lieutenants were trying to form a unified group to move back into Vossenack. It was night before that group was brought back.
Despite continuous withdrawals of individuals and small groups, by about 1030 a line had been established with approximately seventy men, who, fortunately, had retained their weapons. No one seemed to have any illusions about the solidity of such a defensive force, but at least for the time being the retreat had been blocked.
By this time all infantrymen who could get out of the eastern end of Vossenack had apparently done so. American tanks were still there, however. A call for artillery support was sent in by someone who either thought the armor had left or simply ignored it. The first concentration of approximately four volleys was short, and American shells fell among the handful of defenders at the battalion CP line.10 One shell hit a barn in which men from Company E`s 1st Platoon had taken cover with their platoon sergeant, T. Sgt. Donald Nelson. Of the group one man was killed and three seriously wounded. As far as Sergeant Nelson knew, only he and one other man were left of the platoon and the pair withdrew to the Germeter aid station.
Lieutenant Barrilleaux, Company E commander, with a group of his men who were taking shelter along the west wall of a house in order to avoid the full thrust of continuing German artillery fire, was thus fully exposed to the short American rounds. He rushed inside the battalion CP to try to get the firings topped. Just as he stepped back outside another round
exploded near by, killing his company first sergeant and wounding the lieutenant himself in the face and leg. He moved back to the Germeter aidstation.
Lieutenant Beggs, Company E, was wounded slightly in this firing and also reported to the aid station in Germeter. There his wounds seemed to him so minor alongside of "so much real misery" that he decided his place was back with his platoon and returned to Vossenack.
Quick calls to the rear lifted the American artillery fire after the four volleys. The few officers remaining with the bat- talion`s infantry forces checked their defenses and found that more men had withdrawn and their line was now thinner than ever. But the retreat had been stopped for the moment, and at noon the American infantry still held half the town of Vossenack.11
Was There a German Attack?
Armored elements in Vossenack reported that they had never encountered German infantry at any time during early morning of 6 November. Many of the infantrymen also stated that they felt there had been no real enemy attack. The impression of attack had been created, however, and that in itself proved enough to give half the town to the enemy.
Lieutenant Condon, Company E executive officer, believed that there was no actual German attack; if there was, it had not been large enough in itself to cause the rout that followed. He explained that the Germans shelled the forward nose, then lifted their fire in favor of long-range machine gun fire from the woods to the east and north. Next, as the small arms fire slackened and the defenders rose in their holes to meet an expected attack, the artillery let loose again, causing more casualties. That process, the lieutenant said, gave the illusion of attack. Major Bodine, division antitank officer, was in Vossenack from 1000 to 1300 and said he saw no enemy infantry or tanks. The 2dBattalion men told him they were driven from position by artillery and mortar fire.
Lt. Clyde R. Johnson, the Weapons Platoon leader of Company G, insisted there was a German attack. When the retreat started, he and two other men were in a covered hole that had been used as the company observation post. As they began to climb from the hole, he said, a German soldier stepped over the cover, yelling something that sounded like a command. The three Americans, Lieutenant Johnson, Pfc. I. Ortiz, and T. Sgt. Kenneth Jones, remained in their hole, all the while hearing German voices, until about 2000 that night, when they ventured out and eventually made their way back to Germeter.
Presence of at least some German infantry on the extreme nose of the ridge was inferred by Lieutenant Kauffman, Company F commander. Five of his men on the forward nose of the ridge were captured, he said, and were kept in the house in which his old company command post had been located. Kauffman hazarded no guess as to the time of their capture. After nightfall, two of these men, SSgt. George A. Christian and Cpl. James Klinginsmith, escaped and made their way back to American positions.
That the Germans did eventually follow the Americans into the eastern half of Vossenack was confirmed, for by noon German infantrymen were definitely established as far west as the church. But that there must have been some time lag between the American retreat and the German occupation is apparent from the tankers. Both Lieutenant Sherman`s and Lieutenant Anderson`s platoons of Company B, 707th Tank Battalion, were in the eastern edge of Vossenack until at least midmorning. It is possible that the presence of armor prevented the Germans from exploiting the infantry withdrawal.
German sources indicate that an early morning attack (0400) was planned but agree generally that the attack was delayed., by failure of either the infantry or the artillery to be ready on time. The S-2 of the 229th Field Artillery Battalion reported that the attack, according to one prisoner, jumped off at 0835. Some sources say there was "hand-to-hand combat" in the town, but presence of enemy troops as far west as the church cannot be definitely established prior to noon. Capture of the first sizable group of German prisoners was not reported until 1630 in the afternoon.12
The Armor Builds Up a Line
By the time the infantry had built up some semblance of a defense along the line of the battalion command post, Captain Granger, Company B, 707th Tank Battalion, located the infantry command post. Colonel Hatzfeld, the infantry battalion commander, was sitting inside with his face in his hands, and Captain Pruden, the executive, told Granger what he knew of the confused situation. Later in the day Hatzfeld reported to the Germeter aid station, and Pruden assumed actual command.
Soon after Captain Granger`s visit to the infantry command post, at approximately 1100, Lieutenant Sherman radioed from the eastern edge of town: "Captain, it`s getting too hot to handle out here. We are just taking fire and doing no good." Captain Granger told him to withdraw his tanks to the vicinity of the church and the battalion CP and go into position with Lieutenant Anderson`s 1st Platoon, which by this time had gradually worked to the rear until it was now near the church on the south side of town. Also in position in this area were Lieutenant Novak`s immobilized tank and his 3d Platoon, Company C, 707th Tank Battalion.
As Lieutenant Sherman was withdrawing with his tanks along the northern route, he saw a column of infantry emerging from the woods on the north flank almost due north of the infantry CP. Since he could not definitely identify the column as friendly or enemy, he did not open fire.
Lieutenant Anderson`s platoon on the right flank was receiving antitank fire from the vicinity of Harscheidt on the Kommerscheidt-Schmidt ridge. Captain Granger made contact with the artillery liaison officer at the infantry CP and had artillery fire placed on the enemy gun flashes. Then he returned to his command tank where he heard Sgt. Arthur
Claugh`s tank (in Anderson`s platoon) open fire with its machine guns on the buildings in the eastern end of Vossenack. Lieutenant Novak, Company C, opened fire at the same time on the woods line east of the town. When Captain Granger checked to see if Sergeant Claugh was sure he was firing at Germans, the sergeant replied: "Hell, yes, I`m sure," and added hastily, "Sir."
At almost the same time Lieutenant Sherman`s tanks arrived from the northside of town. Captain Granger directed them into position with Lieutenant Anderson and Lieutenant Novak.
At approximately 1140 an infantry officer ran to Captain Granger`s tank and asked for tank support on the north flank. Granger moved with his command tank some twenty-five yards north of the infantry CP. Coming up toward the town out of the wooded draw to the north were fifteen to twenty Germans, evidently the same unidentified column seen earlier by Lieutenant Sherman. When the command tank opened fire, the German infantry hit the dirt, and Granger`s gunner put two rounds of high explosive into the area where they had fallen. An enemy antitank weapon from somewhere in the northern draw fired, one round ripping the ground directly in front of Granger`s tank. He returned the fire, and the antitank weapon did not fire again.
Now there were three tank platoons in Vossenack, all just south of town and on a general line with the infantry defense. One tank, Captain Granger`s, was just north of the infantry CP. It was the only tank covering the north side.13
In midmorning, after all tank destroyers had pulled out of Vossenack, General Davis made contact with Colonel Mays, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion commander, and asked why there were no destroyers in the town. Colonel May`s explanation that the destroyers had found no targets there and did nothing but draw enemy fire did not satisfy the general. He ordered all of Company B, 893d, back into town, asserting that its presence was necessary for infantry morale.14When Major Bodine, the division antitank officer, talked with General Davis, the assistant division commander relaxed his requirement, and only one platoon, the1st under Lieutenant Davis, was ordered back into Vossenack. Davis placed two of his guns on the right side of the main street west of the church and the third on the left to cover the north flank. (The fourth gun was the one which had earlier fallen into a cellar.)
A second platoon of destroyers, the 3d, moved just east of Germeter, fired on reported enemy mortar locations in the draw north of Vossenack, and then pulled back to the rear of Germeter. One gun from this platoon later moved south of Vossenack and joined Lieutenant Smith`s 2d Platoon, which still was waiting at the entrance of the main supply route into the Kall woods in its effort to reach Kommerscheidt and join Task Force R. 15
About 1245, tankers in Vossenack displayed their identification panels while American planes strafed the eastern end of the town and bombed the draw to the northeast. Enemy artillery ceased corn-
pletely as the American planes buzzed the area, the first time in the Schmidt operation that the presence of American aircraft seemed to have any appreciable effect in silencing enemy guns.
After the air strike, the tankers continued to fire intermittently at enemy personnel in the eastern end of town, at the wooded draw to the northeast, and at gun flashes on the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge line. About 1615 either a German Mark V tank or a self-propelled gun fired from the vicinity of Mausbach-Froitscheidt and knocked out one of Lieutenant Anderson`s tanks. Although Anderson returned the fire, the range was too great for his weaker American guns.
At approximately 1800 Lieutenant Quarrie came into town with his 3d Platoon, Company C, 707th Tank Battalion, and evidently a portion of Lieutenant Leming`s1st Platoon, for he had six tanks. He relieved Lieutenant Anderson`s platoon, and all of Company B, 707th, then withdrew to Germeter. Except for Lieutenant Novak`s immobilized tank, Novak`s Company C platoon also withdrew, and Quarrie`s reinforced 3d Platoon, plus one immobilized tank, remained as tank support for the defense of Vossenack`s western half. Also present as darkness came was Lieutenant Davis` platoon of Company B, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion.16
The Engineers Act as Riflemen
Major units of the 1171st Engineer Combat Group were the 20th, 146th (minus one company), and 1340th Engineer Combat Battalions. The 146th Battalion had been assigned road* maintenance work in the rear areas, a task which became most formidable because of the muddy conditions of the forest trails. The other two battalions were in direct support of the 112th and 110th Infantry Regiments. One company of the organic 103d Engineer Combat Battalion had also been attached to each of the three infantry regiments. Engineers of the 1171st Group were to be prepared at any time upon four hours` notice for commitment as riflemen.
In view of the chaotic situation in Vossenack, the three engineer battalions were alerted at various times during the morning of 6 November by various commanders, including General Davis and Colonel Daley, 1171st Group commander. The first alert came early in the day, before Colonel Daley knew that Captain Lutz`s two platoons had withdrawn from Vossenack, when the group commander alerted Company C, 1340th Engineers, for movement into Vossenack. General Davis met the Company C commander, Capt. Ralph E. Lind, Jr., about 1100 as he was taking his company into a forward assembly area17 near Richelskaul preparatory to moving to Vossenack. Davis ordered the company to go instead to the Kall bridge and secure it. He also ordered a platoon of Company A, 20th Engineers, which had withdrawn from the main supply route on Colonel Sonnefield`s orders, to accompany it.
Shortly after issuing these orders, General Davis apparently changed hi mind.
CORDUROY ROAD. Adverse weather conditions required extensive road maintenance work by the engineers.
When he met Colonel Daley and his engineer battalion commanders near Richelskaul, he told Daley to send Company C, 1340th, and those men of the 20th Engineers who had withdrawn from Vossenack, back into Vossenack to report to the infantry commander. After establishing that the situation in the town was secure, Daley was to take them on to recapture the bridge area. Since these orders conflicted with the general`s previous instructions to Captain Lind, the 1171st S-3 left the meeting early to overtake Lind`s company. He passed on the new order and Company C, 1340th, headed for Vossenack about noon.
When Colonel Daley and the 1340thcommander, Lt. Col. Truman H. Set-life, left the meeting, they also overtook Company C, 1340th, to accompany it to Vossenack. On the way they met Lieutenant Pellino of Company A, 20th, who was leading about thirty men back from the Kall trail area. Pellino and his men joined the column, thus giving it two platoons of Company A, 20th. From Pellino Daley learned that there had been no enemy action when the lieutenant had left his defensive bivouac on the Kall trail. This information, the colonel felt, changed the situation enough to warrant letting Company C, 1340th, and the two Company A, 20th, platoons continue to the bridge before the Germans
moved there in force. He could send Company B, 1340th, to Vossenack. Colonel Setliffe continued with the column and Colonel Daley returned to the 1340thcommand post at Richelskaul. Captain Lind, receiving his third change of orders, headed once again for the Kall bridge.
When Colonel Daley reached Richelskaul, he found Company B, 1340th, ready to move and awaiting orders. He told the company to proceed to Vossenack and then, after the situation there was cleared up, to go to the bridge to assist Company C.
Learning then that the two companies of the 146th Engineers were moving into an assembly area about 700 yards west of Germeter, Colonel Daley gave orders there to the battalion`s advance party to have the battalion move to the edge of the Germeter woods with the prospect of commitment in Vossenack. He and the 146th commander, Lt. Col. Carl J. Isley, then headed for Vossenack to reconnoiter the situation.
With the 146th Engineers thus preparing for commitment in Vossenack, Colonel Daley radioed Company B, 13401:h, to bypass the town and move directly to the Kall valley to assist Company C, 1340th, at the bridge. This order completed commitment of all the 1171st engineers, for the 146th had only two companies and Company A, 1340th, was engaged in road repair and in occupying captured pillboxes in the 110th Infantry sector to the south. This company was not considered for commitment in the 112th Infantry sector at this time because the extent of the German operation was not known. The enemy might also be threatening on the 110th Infantry front.
Colonel Daley and Colonel Isley arrived in Vossenack to reconnoiter shortly after 1300. Daley was wounded slightly in the leg by shell fragments-not seriously enough to require evacuation. The two engineer commanders made contact at the infantry battalion CP with Captain Pruden, fully in command of the remnants of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, since Colonel Hatzfeld`s evacuation. Pruden said he had to have relief within thirty minutes; he could not be responsible for holding the hastily contrived line any longer than thirty minutes with his demoralized force, now reduced to about forty men plus the tank support. Enemy infantry were in full contact. When Colonel Isley said it would take at least one and a half hours to get his men forward, Captain Pruden asked him to hurry, saying he would hang on as best he could.18
After Colonel Daley and Colonel Isley had gone into Vossenack, General Davis came upon Company A, 146th Engineers, moving into its assembly area where it had been directed by Colonel Isley to await further orders. With the company was Maj. Willard B. Baker, 146th S-3, who said General Davis told him: "Go in. Drive the enemy out of the town. Move. Get going."19
Many of the men were still wearing their hip boots from road work and the commanders knew nothing of the Vossenack situation. The company commander, Capt. Sam H. Ball, Jr., issued instructions to his platoon leaders as they moved forward. He sent out several men as a point and told his 1st Platoon under 1stLt. William J. Kehaly to take the right (south) side of Vossenack`s main street, his 2d. Platoon under 1st Lt. Kenneth J. Shively to take the left (north), and his 3d Platoon under 1st Lt. William A. Anderson to be in support. Advancing in a column of platoons, one file on either side of the Germeter-Vossenack road, the company entered the western edge of Vossenack and Captain Ball directed the lead platoons to continue to the church and assume defensive positions. He himself reported to the command post of the 2d. Battalion, 112th Infantry, with Colonel Daley, Colonel Isley, and Captain Pruden. Because of General Davis` orders and the lack of preliminaries, troops were getting into town in less than the infantry captain`s requested half-hour.
As the 1st and 2d Platoons passed the infantry CP, they began to receive harassing rifle fire from the eastern end of Vossenack. Pvt. Doyle W. McDaniel climbed atop a shed roof on the north side of the street in an effort to locate this fire; he jumped down again and landed almost on top of a German, whom he shot. When his platoon reached the crossroads at the church, McDaniel climbed another building in another attempt to spot the enemy riflemen, only to be seen first himself and killed.
The 1st Platoon on the right (south), using "run and duck" tactics which involved advancing in short rushes singly or in pairs, reached the crossroads and captured the church, taking eight or ten German prisoners at the cost of approximately five engineers wounded. Other men of the platoon took abuilding on the right of the church. By nightfall the company had established itself completely in everything west of the church. It held the church as well, one house beside it on the south, and three houses on the west side of the street leading from the church toward the Kall gorge.20
Company C, 146th Engineers, followed Company A into Vossenack just before dusk. Capt. Vincent L. Wall, the company commander, was directed to take over defense of the north side of the main street, leaving Company A free to defend the south side. Captain Wall and the battalion S-3, Major Baker, went forward to reconnoiter after darkness had already come. As they attempted to go around the eastern side of the church, a German threw a hand grenade at them, wounding Captain Wall. Both officers pretended to be dead until a German rose up, evidently to determine the effect of the grenade, and in so doing silhouetted himself. Rising quickly to one knee, Captain Wall shot the German with his carbine, and the two officers ran back around the corner of the church.
Because of his wounds, Wall turned his company over to 1st Lt. Richard R. Schindler, who then established the Company C platoons in the buildings on the north side of the street-in the order 1st, 2d, 3d-from east to west. All pla-
toons of Company A then shifted to the south side of the street.21
Meanwhile about thirty-five men of Company B, 20th Engineers, who had withdrawn that morning from Vossenack upon Captain Lutz`s order, had been assembled near Germeter and were ordered by General Davis to assist the Vossenack defense. Tying in with the defense of the 146th Engineers, they went into position south of Vossenack and west of the crossroads where a wooded draw pointed finger-like toward the town from the south.
After the arrival of Company A, 146th Engineers, in Vossenack, Colonel Daley had continued back toward Germeter, met General Davis, and explained the disposition of his command. When General Davis objected to the decision to send the two companies of the 1340th Engineers to the bridge area before reinforcing Vossenack, Colonel Daley radioed the 1340th column to turn back. But, he discovered, Company C, 1340th, had already reached the bridge. He then ordered Colonel Setliffe, the battalion commander, to leave whatever force he felt was necessary to hold the bridge and return the remainder of the two companies to Vossenack. Setliffe decided that all of Company C was necessary to hold the bridge.
Colonel Daley next telephoned General Cota and reported the situation. General Cota directed the 1171st commander to take command of all troops inVossenack and to assume responsibility for defense of the town. Since the 1340thEngineers seemed to have control
of the bridge area and the 146th seemed adequate for the defense of Vossenack, Colonel Daley set up two command groups, one under Colonel Isley controlling all troops in Vossenack and one under Colonel Setliffe controlling all in the bridge and Kall trail area.22
The 1340th column had moved out about noon for the Kall valley. The two platoons of Company A, 20th Engineers, dropped off at their former defensive bivouac at the entrance of the main supply route into the gorge. Company B,1340th, had started out somewhat later than Company C, and reached only the Company A, 20th, positions when Colonel Daley`s radio message instructed it tog o back to Vossenack. While the men of the company dug in near Company A, 20th, their commanders went to Vossenack and talked with Colonel Isley, who now was in over-all command of troops in the town. Even though the positions now being occupied by Company B, 1340th, were not very satisfactory, it was decided that the men should remain in them rather than find new ones in the dark. Next day offered the possibility of improvement.
In the meantime Company C, 1340th, with approximately ninety-two men and five officers, had reached the Kall bridge without fighting and was in a defensive position by about 1830. The 3d Platoon under 2d Lt. Jack H. Baughn and one squad of the 1st Platoon crossed the bridge and dug in east of the river; the 2d Platoon on the west bank dug in near the bridge and the Kall trail, facing gen-
erally northeast in a platoon perimeter defense. The remaining two squads of the 1st Platoon dug in south of the 2d but still north of the bridge, facing generally south and southwest. The company had six machine guns, nine bazookas, and its usual complement of M-1 rifles.
Thus, despite initial confusion and contradictory orders, the engineers had by nightfall established themselves in defense as riflemen. In Vossenack were Companies A and C, 146th Engineers. Remnants of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry-some forty men-provided local security for what became a combined infantry-engineer command post. A few stragglers in Germeter were organized into a platoon and moved up after dark.23 At the Kall bridge was Company C, 1340th Engineers. At the entrance of the Kall trail into the woods southeast of Vossenack two platoons of Company A, 20th, and all of Company B, 1340th, were deployed. Farther west and south of Vossenack along the woods line approximately two platoons of Company B, 20th, were in position.
Still beyond the river and tied in with Company C, 112th Infantry, was one platoon of Company C, 20th Engineers, as well as the company`s headquarters group. One squad of this company still guarded a rear explosive dump near Germeter, one platoon was on mine-clearing duty with the 109th Infantry, and two squads had been decimated the preceding night by German infiltration in the Kall gorge. One platoon of Company B, 20th, had also been lost in the Kall action. Company B, 146th, was on detached service with the 102d Cavalry Group, and Company A, 1340th, was still working with the 110th Infantry, although its company commander had been warned during the afternoon that his company might be pulled out at any moment to join the other engineers in the Kall gorge or atVossenack.24
The Command Level
Throughout the morning of 6 November 28th Division headquarters seemed to be aware of the withdrawal of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, from Vossenack but failed to appreciate the withdrawal as the rout it actually was. Orders were given early that armored units be utilized fully to stabilize the situation. At 1130 General Cota instructed General Davis to secure both the Kall trail and Vossenack and to use the engineers, if necessary, as riflemen. General Davis had been on the scene all morning, at least since about 0830, and acted either before receiving these orders or immediately thereafter.25
Throughout the entire Schmidt operation, V Corps had kept in close contact with division headquarters, often by telephone conversations between the V Corps commander and General Cota. In the light of what division recorded in its journals, however, little accurate information was available to pass on to corps. The division`s G-3 Periodic Reports, from which much of the corps estimate of the situation could be expected to be gleaned, seemed designed to soften the effect of the various reverses.
On 6 November, for example, when telling of the rout of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, the G-3 Periodic Report stated: "2d Battalion received very heavy and concentrated artillery fire, withdrew to reorganize and then regained their original position." Actually the 2d Battalion had been routed, recovered none of the ground it had lost, and had been destroyed as a fightingunit.26
The Night in Vossenack: Armor
Armored elements in Vossenack after dark consisted of a composite platoon of six tanks under Lieutenant Quarrie, Company C, 707th Tank Battalion; Lieutenant Novak`s immobilized tank; and a platoon of tank destroyers under Lieutenant Davis, Company B, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion. At approximately 2000 General Davis and Captain Granger, Company B, 707th, checked the positions of Lieutenant Quarrie`s platoon. Sometime during the night Sgt. John B. Cook, Company B, 707th, went into Vossenack and drove out a tank that had been damaged that afternoon by artillery fire and temporarily abandoned by his unit.
Lieutenant Quarrie asked Colonel Isley, now in command in Vossenack, for either infantry or engineers to outpost his tanks, and a lieutenant and ten to twelve men from Company B, 20th Engineers, were designated for the job. They dug in underneath each tank, and the engineer lieutenant entered Lieutenant Quarrie`s tank. About 0300 it received a mortar or artillery hit on the turret, another tank was hit on the engine compartment, and the engineer guards left. The engineer lieutenant left Quarrie`s tank, ostensibly to make an inspection of his men, but did not return.
Quarrie was called to the infantry-engineer CP about 0500 to give recommendations on employing his tanks the next morning to help retake the eastern end of town. He told the planners that his platoon was to be relieved at daylight by a platoon of Company B, 707th. Because of exposure to enemy fire from the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge, he advised against using tanks on the north.
The 2d Platoon, Company B, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, reinforced by one destroyer from the 3d, had waited through the afternoon at the entrance to the Kall valley for word that the supply route was reopened. At dusk the platoon withdrew to Germeter to refuel and await further instructions. Lieutenant Davis`1st Platoon remained all night in Vossenack.27
The Night in Vossenack: Engineers
When General Davis visited his infantry-engineer CP in Vossenack at 2100,Colonel Isley explained to him the disposition of his troops. General Davis reminded the engineer commander that his mission in Vossenack was to defend the supply route running through the town and that he couldn`t defend a supply route by sitting on it. Indicating generally on a map with a sweeping motion of his finger the ground just southeast of the eastern edge of the town, the general ordered Isley to put a company "out here." Captain Pruden pointed out that this was the area where his in-
fantry had found the positions so exposed that they proved untenable. The general said the engineers could choose their own exact locations but they had to put someone in the vicinity he had indicated.
To carry out these instructions, Colonel Isley ordered Company C, 146th Engineers, to take over the defense of both sides of the Vossenack street. Then Company A, 146th, guided by two infantry sergeants who had been in the forward eastern position, was to move to the area indicated. In compliance, Lieutenant Schindler, Company C commander since Captain Wall had been wounded, sent his 3d Platoon to take over the easternmost defenses of Company A.
Before Company A moved out on its new mission, Lt. Col. James F. White, executive officer of the engineer group, arrived at the infantry-engineer CP and gave instructions for the next day. At daylight the 146th was to clear the eastern end of Vossenack and then defend the northern flank of the town. Company B, 1340th, the remaining elements of Company A, 20th, and the two platoons of Company B, 20th, were to move up after the town was cleared and defend the south flank, and tanks were to be placed at the eastern nose of the town.
Despite this announcement of plans for the next day, Colonel Isley felt that General Davis` instructions to occupy the exposed nose of the ridge still had to be executed. Thus, Company A and its two infantry guides moved out about 2315.28In a tightly closed single-file column because of the darkness, the Company A engineers moved to the south of Vossenack for about 400 yards to avoid the light from burning buildings near the church, and then turned east. The company had passed Vossenack`s second main north-south street when Captain Ball, the company commander, discovered that the infantry guides did not know where their former positions were. They were lost. The company halted as Lieutenant Kehaly, the 1st Platoon leader, and one of the guides moved ahead in an effort to find the positions. They returned in about fifteen minutes without having succeeded. Thinking they had gone too far to the east, Captain Ball pulled the company back to within about twenty yards of a promontory of houses alongside the second main north-south street and again sent Lieutenant Kehaly and the guide to search for the positions.
The lieutenant and the guide had gone no more than forty feet when Captain Ball at the head of the waiting column caught sight of a man squatting in afield not far away. As the man stood up and fastened his trousers, Captain Bal told the soldier beside him to call out to him. The man said something in reply-Captain Ball thought it was in German-turned, and ran. When Captain Ball fired, the man fell and lay moaning. Ball noticed another man moving alongside a hedge near the first houses; a shot from another American rifle rang out, and there was no further sound from the hedge.
Seeking to avoid what must be enemy positions in the houses, the captain passed word down his line of men to withdraw about 200 yards down the slope to the southeast. As they did so, about four burp guns opened fire, but the shooting was high and the convex contour of the
slope provided protection. Then the Germans fired flares, the first coming from the promontory of buildings near which the Americans had seen the two Germans. Other flares, accompanied by sporadic machine gun fire, rose from the Kall woods to the south. Still others shot up from the west near the church, giving the impression that the Company A engineers were surrounded.
Lieutenant Kehaly and the infantry guide had rejoined the company. Calling a conference of his platoon leaders, Captain Ball concluded that, without being able to find the old infantry positions, his troops could not accomplish their mission and should return to the western end of town. The Germans obviously knew they were on the ridge now and would be alert for any new move.
With Lieutenant Kehaly and Captain Ball leading, the men moved farther toward the draw to the south in order to avoid detection from Vossenack. They reached a point a few yards south of a road fork which formed the supply trail and spotted two Germans who appeared to be laying mines. The Americans yelled at them, just to make sure they were Germans, and then fired. The Germans took flight and disappeared into a slight dip in the trail. Tossing a grenade toward the dip, and then another, Lieutenant Kehaly and Captain Ball rolled over to where they could see into the depression. They saw only one German walking unconcernedly up the trail toward Vossenack. Captain Ball fired at him and the German fell.
As sleet and rain began to make the cold night even more uncomfortable, the column started forward again. When Captain Ball passed the fallen German, he glanced back just in time to see that the German was not dead and seemed to be preparing to shoot. Both Captain Ball and his runner fired again. This time the German lay still.
Returning with his company to the western end of Vossenack, Captain Ball reported to Colonel Isley and was told that new plans were being readied for an attack in early morning. It was then about 0300, and the engineer company too cover in the battered houses west of the command post.29
When Company C, 146th Engineers, had relieved Company A in its defense of Vossenack to allow the flanking movement, the 3d Platoon under 1st Lt. Charles F. Rollins, Jr., had taken over the defense of the church and the Company A positions. About 0200 a machine gun position of this platoon slightly southwest of the church was hit by a German hand grenade, and the machine gunners withdrew to a near-by alternate position from which they still could cover their assigned target area. Taking advantage of the darkness, the Germans about the same time infiltrated into the east portion of the church and opened fire with burp guns on the 3d Platoon men in the other side of the church. One engineer was killed, the others withdrew, and the much-disputed church once again changed hands.30
Southeast of Vossenack at the entrance of the Kall trail into the woods, Company B, 1340th Engineers, and Company A, 20th Engineers (now reduced to about thirty officers and men), were harassed throughout the night by enemy artillery fire pounding on the ridge behind them. Because the shelling centered approximately a hundred yards away, the
engineers had few casualties. Two machine gun outposts were established along the Kall trail between the woods and Vossenack.
Back in Vossenack Colonel Isley planned a meeting for 0530 to co-ordinate for an early morning attack (0730) designed to retake -the eastern half of the town. The tank officer who was to relieve Lieutenant Quarrie did not arrive at the command post until 0645, and the original attack hour was therefore delayed until 0800.31
Medics and Engineers Along the Kall
Because the Kall River supply route remained mined and insecure during the daylight hours of 6 November, the combined 1st-3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, aid station in the log dugout beside the trail made no use of vehicles for evacuation. Several groups of walking wounded did make their way along a wooded cross-country route that led around the south of Vossenack ridge up the draw toRichelskaul.32
T/4 Krieder, the engineer in charge of the security guard at the Kall bridge, had no further contact with American troops after the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry (infantry element of Task Force R), crossed the bridge about 0815. Moving back up the hill to report to their company commander, Krieder and his men came across five men from the 707th Tank Battalion who had remained with their disabled tanks through the enemy patrol action the night before. One tanker, Sergeant Markey, whose immobilized tank had necessitated use of the complicated switchback west of the Kall, said he had remained inside his tank and could hear the Germans knocking on the tank and talking. They had made no effort to look inside.
When Krieder`s group reached the exit of the main supply route from the woods, it found no trace of its company (Company A, 20th Engineers), which had by this time obeyed Colonel Sonnefield`s orders to withdraw. Since heavy shellfire was falling over the route they would have to follow to get back to Germeter, the men took cover in abandoned foxholes along the woods line. They made contact with their company in the afternoon when it returned to its positions. Despite a general belief that the Kall trail was in German hands through the day of 6 November, T/4 Krieder made no mention of having seen any Germans after daylight.33
That afternoon when the men of Captain Lind`s Company C, 1340th Engineers, moved toward the Kall bridge, they made no enemy contact. By 1830 they had established their defense near the bridge: the 3d Platoon and one squad of the1st across the bridge on the river`s east bank; the 2d Platoon on the west bank along the Kall trail; the remaining two squads of the 1st Platoon on the west bank facing south and southwest. (Map 28) Five men reconnoitered the Mestrenger Muehle east of the river and found it unoccupied.
At dusk the company commander, Captain Lind, sent two mine detector crews with several men as security to sweep the trail leading from the bridge
back toward Vossenack. About 200 yards above the bridge, between the bridge and the infantry aid station, the .men spotted four to six Teller mines which had evidently been laid hastily in the mud of the trail. Before they could remove the mines, a burp gun from the right flank opened fire. Although it was fast growing dark and the men
could not spot the enemy gunner, Cpl. Thomas W. Hamlett, in charge of the detector crews, shot a full clip from his rifle into the undergrowth, and the German did not fire again. The company executive officer, 1st Lt. Lumir T. Makousky, directed the detector crews to move back to their platoons and told Corporal Hamlett to establish an outpost at the intersection of the Kall trail and the north-south river road.
It was well after dark before any enemy artillery fire hit the engineers` bridge positions. Later, about 2330, a particularly heavy concentration showered the area. Close on its heels came a group of about twenty-five Germans, following the artillery so closely that they were almost atop the 2d Platoon position on the west bank when the shelling lifted. They opened fire with burp guns, machine guns, and grenades, killing the squad leader of the 1st Squad and wounding the 1st Platoon leader and Corporal Hamlett.
The engineers` return fire seemed to disrupt the patrol`s attack, although individual Germans continued down the river road toward the southwest. The intense preliminary shelling had caused the heaviest American casualties. Some of the engineers left their foxholes during the fire fight and retreated up the hill toward the positions of Company A, 20th Engineers. Nevertheless, the enemy attack was stopped, and next morning the remaining engineers counted nine dead Germans.
The enemy continued to harass the Company C, 1340th, engineers at the bridge the rest of the night with artillery and mortar fire. Counting its heavy casualties of the night and the number who had retreated during and after the patrol action, the company found itself reduced to about half its original strength the next morning.34
While the engineers suffered no more direct attacks during the night, other Germans were in the area. An enemy squad stopped at the log aid station, inquired about the type of installation, and then offered rations or any supplies that
might be needed. As long as there were no firearms around, the Germans said, they would not fire upon the aid station.35
Supplies Cross the Kall
In the rear the assistant S-3 of the 110th Infantry, Capt. George H. Rumbaugh ,was called into his regiment`s operations room about 1930. Word had been received there that both Colonel Tait, commander of the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry, which had become a part of Task Force R, and Maj. Robert C. Reynolds, executive officer, had been wounded. Since the extent of their injuries was not known, Captain Rumbaugh was to go to the 3d Battalion near Kommerscheidt, taking with him two weasels loaded with water, food, and medical supplies. If he found both officers seriously wounded, he was to assume command of the 3d Battalion.
As Captain Rumbaugh readied his jeep and two weasels for the trip, he learned that five weasels and one jeep from the 112th Infantry were going forward under the command of 1st Lt. Robert W. Pratt. The two groups consolidated and moved out about 2300. In Vossenack and on the open ridge southeast of the town, the supply column received some harassing small arms fire but continued, although two of the weasels overturned in a sharp gully on the dark ridge and a third threw a track. The remainder of the column (two jeeps and four weasels) entered the valley portion of the trail, only to be delayed after entering the woods by felled trees of varying sizes, all of which had to be pushed or pulled out of the way before the column could proceed.
As the column paused in the vicinity of the aid station, Captain Rumbaugh thought he heard guttural voices farther down in the draw. Flattening themselves under their vehicles, the men could see two figures silhouetted against the abrupt, drop to the left. When Captain Rumbaugh challenged, one of the figures tossed a hand grenade up the slope. The convoy personnel answered with fire from their individual weapons, and Captain Rumbaugh tossed a grenade, ending the trouble. Four dead Germans were later found near the location.
The party lost a jeep and trailer somewhere along the route, but finally crossed the river about 0200. Beyond the Kall the column was delayed about an hour by a large fallen tree which had to be removed with hand power, ropes, and axes. Still later, another weasel threw a track attempting to bypass three tanks of Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, which had withdrawn to the woods after their turrets had been damaged during the day by enemy artillery fire in Kommerscheidt.
Captain Rumbaugh eventually reached the 112th Infantry forward command post, which had moved into the northern edge of Kommerscheidt, with just three weasels and his own jeep-all that remained out of the original nine-vehicle convoy. The time was about 0300 (7 November). In Kommerscheidt Rumbaugh found that Colonel Tait had already been evacuated to the combined aid station in the Kall gorge and that Major Reynolds had wounds in his right hand and chest and was in no condition to continue his duties. Major Reynolds was placed in one of the weasels to be
returned to the rear, and Rumbaugh assumed command of the 3d Battalion, 110thInfantry.
Lieutenant George, motor officer of the 3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, who had led a supply convoy to Kommerscheidt the night before and had not yet left the town, took command of Lieutenant Pratt`s three empty weasels, adding them to his two two-and-one-half-ton trucks, jeep, and two weasels. The column moved out about 0400 (7 November), carrying as many wounded as possible on what was to be Kommerscheidt`s last casualty evacuation by vehicle.36
The jeep driver was killed by artillery fire soon after leaving Kommerscheidt, but the remainder of the column continued. Despite darkness, intermittent shelling, and a driving rain, the convoy snaked its way past the east bank switchbacks, across the bridge, and up the precipitous west bank trail. Approximately a hundred yards from the western edge of the Kall woods, the big trucks had to be abandoned because a heavy tree blocked the road. The wounded were transferred from the trucks to the weasels. On reaching the edge of the woods, the column discovered that a group of Germans had dug in on the open ridge to the right (slightly south of east from Vossenack). Lieutenant George saw only one way out. With the wounded instructed to "fire like hell" in the direction of the Germans, the vehicles gunned their motors and raced across the slippery open ridge, avoiding Vossenack itself by following the ridge south of the town all the way to Richelskaul.37
Artillery and Air Support
American artillery fire during 6 November was credited with -breaking up at least one German attack against Kommerscheidt and assisting the Vossenack defense by firing numerous concentrations in the woods to the north and northeast of the town after withdrawal of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry. Despite an ammunition shortage, the 229th fired a total of 3,949 rounds, but counter-battery fire was reduced critically.38
Adverse weather again hampered aircraft on 6 November, and the day`s first mission did not reach the target area until noon. Twelve P-47`s of the 365th Group bombed reported armored vehicles just northwest of Harscheidt as marked by red smoke from American artillery. Results were not observed. Another squadron of the 365th bombed smoke-marked tanks in Schmidt from 1310 to 1430, and still another squadron of the same group took up the Schmidt attack at 1425 and continued until 1520. No results of either mission were observed. Thirty-sixP-38`s of the 474th Group bombed smoke-marked troop concentrations in the northwestern edge of Berg-stein and in the Brandenberger Wald, north of Brandenberg. The last recorded mission of the day, completed at 1627 and also with no results observed, was by twelve P-47`s of the 365th Group which bombed camouflaged tanks in the edge of the woods northeast of Schmidt and southeast of Kommerscheidt. One other mission, reported by tankers and infantrymen against the eastern end of Vossenack, was not recorded.39
109th and 110th Infantry Summaries
Although the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry, beat off what seems to have been an enemy patrol action at dawn on 6 November, enemy infiltration in rear of the forward companies continued. Early in the morning three 109th companies attacked generally northwest in an attempt to clear the wooded road network in that direction for the establishment of road blocks. None of the units made appreciable gains, and they all withdrew to their starting positions. The 109thInfantry received a message from division at 1500 that it would be relieved during the night by the 12th Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division.40(Map 29)
The 110th Infantry`s 3d Battalion was committed during the day as a part of Task Force R, and no other change took place in 110th dispositions except renewal of the attack by two companies to close the gap between the 1st and 2dBattalions. Control in the dense forest was so difficult that by nightfall these companies had not accomplished their mission.41
The Enemy Situation
German records and 28th Division G-2 sources indicate that an attack by the 156th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and elements (the 1st Battalion and probably the 2d) of the 60th Panzer Grenadier Regiment was scheduled for 0400, 6 November, from the woods north and northeast of Vossenack. The Americans withdrew in the early morning, but enemy troops, so
far as records can definitely establish the fact, did not enter Vossenack until sometime between midmorning and noon. Even then the Germans held only the eastern half of the town as far as the church.
The Germans reported a temporary reverse in the Kall gorge. The Reconnaissance Battalion of the 116th Panzer Division had been pushed back by Task Force R when Colonel Ripple`s group had fought to cross the Kall River in order to carry out plans to recapture Schmidt. The Germans claimed this American "attack" had "tank support," probably referring to the incident before dawn on the open ridge southeast of Vossenack when Captain Pugh and Lieutenant Fuller, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, had dealt with a German ambush by using a platoon of tank destroyers. The Germans issued orders in the afternoon to counteract this Kall gorge reverse, but unrestricted movement of the 1340th Engineers to the bridge area in late afternoon indicates that enemy units did not actually move back into the area until well after dark.
Troops of the 275th Division and the 1056th Regiment maintained their Raffelsbrand-Simonskall defense throughout the clay against the 110th Infantry, while elements of the 60th Panzer Grenadier Regiment or of several fortress and engineer battalions42 that had been moved into the area kept up heavy pressure north of Germeter against the 109th Infantry. At Kommerscheidt the 1055th Regiment and the 16th Panzer Regiment continued their efforts to dislodge the remnants of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 112thInfantry.
Either on this day or on the day before, a German officer and several men of the 116th Panzer Division carried a radio to the edge of the woods south of the western edge of Vossenack. Here they had an unrestricted view for directing artillery. fire against Vossenack and Germeter.
In the evening of 6 November the commanding general of the 89th Division convened his commanders and ordered that the Americans at Kommerscheidt must be annihilated. The 1055th Regiment and the 16th Panzer Regiment were to renew their efforts there at dawn the next day (7 November), while the 1056th Regiment was to continue its efforts to maintain contact with the 116thPanzer Division`s Reconnaissance Battalion near Mestrenger Muehle in the Kall gorge.43
Summary for 6 November and Night of 6-7 November
Lack of success in the 109th and 110th Infantry sectors added to the 112th Infantry`s difficult situation to make 6 November and the night of 6-7 November another dismal period in the 28th Division`s battle for Schmidt. In Kommerscheidt the remaining men of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 112th Infantry, although having withstood several minor German attacks during the day, together could hardly have mustered two full-strength rifle companies. In their rear at the northern woods line were the remnants of Company C, 112th Infantry (less one platoon, which was in Kommerscheidt),
and the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry (now numbering less than 300 effectives), one platoon of engineers (Company C, 20th), and two 57-mm. anti tank guns with crews. The supporting armor for this Kommerscheidt defense now consisted of only three fully operational tank destroyers (one had been completely knocked out, five partially damaged) and four tanks (three had pulled back to Company C, 112th Infantry, as rear guard after receiving damaged turrets) . Only one supply convoy (three weasels and a jeep under Captain Rumbaugh) had gotten forward during the period. The problem at hand was no longer to recapture Schmidt but to hold in Kommerscheidt against the enemy`s continuing attacks, which might well be expected to begin again at dawn, 7November.
In the Kall gorge only a few men and officers of Company C, 1340th Engineers, remained in defense near the river bridge. Although the combined 1st-3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, aid station still operated there, it was without any adequate evacuation system. Only walking wounded had gotten out during the period. Enemy patrols still moved almost at will across the wooded portion of the vital main supply route. At the head of the wooded portion of the trail, Company B, 1340th Engineers, and elements of Company A, 20th Engineers, held defensive positions which did little to defend the trail after it entered the gorge.
In Vossenack the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, had been driven out of the eastern end of the town, whether by actual German attack or by artillery fire alone no one seemed able to ascertain. What was definite was that this battalion, reduced to something like forty to fifty effectives, could now be considered out of the action. Thrown into the Vossenack battle in almost cavalry-like tradition had been Companies A and C, 146th Engineers, who had established a defensive line along the crossroads at the church in the center of town. Supported by the tanks of one platoon and the tank destroyers of another, these engineers were to attempt at daylight to retake the eastern end of Vossenack.
South of Vossenack and contributing little to any part of the action were about thirty men of Company B, 20th Engineers. Available in Germeter in ready positions to move to Vossenack on call were two tank destroyer platoons of Company B, 893d; an almost full-strength tank company, Company B, 707th; and less than a platoon of tanks of Company C, 707th.
During the afternoon the 28th Division had received from V Corps a letter of instructions providing for the relief of the 109th Infantry by the 12th Infantry of the 4th Division during the night of 6-7 November and the attachment of this regimental combat team to the 28th Division. The 12th Infantry was to take over the mission of the 109th, that of protecting the north flank, and was not to be used for any other mission. Upon relief the 109th Infantry was to be employed as directed by corps. But by daylight of 7 November relief of the 109th Infantry had not been completed.44
For the moment in the 112th Infantry sector there were two immediate tasks at hand. While the 146th Engineers were to attack to retake the eastern half of Vossenack, the defenders of Kommerscheidt must brace in expectation of another strong German attack at dawn.
1. For a discussion of this question see below, pp. 354-55, 371-72.
2. Combat Interv 75 with Johnson, Kauffman, Barrilleaux, Condon, Crain, Philpot, Cascarano, Beggs, Pruden, Nesbitt; Combat Intery 76 with Davis-Murphy-Gardner.
3. Armor story is from the following: Combat Interv 76 with Mays, Ripple, Davis-Murphy-Gardner, Leming-Quarrie Jenkins-Ryan, Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook. Direct quotes accredited to Captain West are from Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook interview.
4. Combat Interv 75 with Lutz, Sonnefield, Doherty.
5. Combat Interv 75 with Ripperdam, Peril, Tyo, Toner, Simon, Kudiak, Walter, Quinton-Hausman-Kertes-Lockwood-Norton; Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne, Pugh; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
6. Combat Interv77 with Capt George H. Rumbaugh and Joyce, 3d Bn, 110th Inf; Combat Interv 76 with Pugh, Ripple, Fuller, Mays, Davis-Murphy Gardner; Combat Interv 75 with Krieder; 707th Tk Bn S-3 Jnl, 8 Nov 44; Interv with Col Peterson.
7. Combat Interv 76 with Pugh, Hostrup-Fleig Payne. For heroic action in the Kommerscheidt area during 4-5-6 November, Lieutenant Leonard, who was subsequently seriously wounded, was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
8. Combat Interv 75 with 1st and 3d Bn, 112th, personnel for the period; Combat Interv 76 with Pugh, Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
9. Combat Interv 76 with Ripple; Combat Intery 75 with Ripperdam, Dana, Kudiak; Combat Interv 77 with Rumbaugh Joyce; Interv with Col Peterson.
10. Combat Interv 75 with Nelson, Condon, Barrilleaux, Nesbitt. Artillery tecords are too indefinite to determine what American unit, if any, fired this concentration.
11. Infantry story is from the following: Combat Interv 75 with Pruden, Nesbitt, Barrilleaux, Condon, Beggs, Crain, Cascarano, Nelson, Philpot, Kauffman; 112th Inf S-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44; V Corps Study, G-3 Sec.
12. Combat Interv 75 with Beggs, Pruden, Condon, Johnson, Cascarano, Kauffman; Combat Interv 75 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne; Pugh; Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook; Davis-Murphy-Gardner. See also 28th Div G-2 Jnl, 6 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 File, 6Nov 44; MS # A-905 (Waldenburg); MS # C-016 (Straube); ETHINT 56 (Gersdorff and Waldenburg); Sit Rpts, 6 Nov 44, found in OB WEST KTB Anlagen 1.-10-XI.44.
13. Combat Interv 76 with Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook.
14. ". . . many enemy targets of opportunity suitable for TD fire were not engaged. A few well-placed guns, each with alternate firing positions, could have duplicated several times the destruction of enemy armor accredited to [the American tank destroyers]." Ltr, Gen Davis to Hist Div, 27 Dec 49.
15. Combat Interv 76 with Mays, Davis-Murphy-Gardner.
16. Combat Interv 76 with Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook, Leming-Quarrie-Jenkins-Ryan; Combat Interv 75 with Condon, Pruden. Although no reference to air attack against Vossenack is made in IX TAO records, this information is accepted because it comes from ground troops who saw the action.
17. At the time General Davis met these troops "they were not moving into assembly areas-they were on the road moving away from the action."Ltr, Gen Davis to Hist Div, 27 Dec 49.
18. Story of engineer commitment is from the following: Combat Interv 75 with Daley, Pruden, Isley, Capt Thomas F. Creegan and 1st Lt Lumir T. Makousky, 1340th Engrs, and 1st Lt Clarence White, 20th Engrs; Lt Col Truman H. Setliffe, Rpt of Opns of CO, 1340th Engrs (hereafter cited as Setliffe Rpt); Sonnefield Rpt; Statement, Maj John G. Auld, Ex Off, 1340th Engrs, to Hist Off (hereafter cited as Auld Statement); Maj Robert L. Argus, S-3, 1171st Engr (C) Gp, notes on operations of 6 Nov 44 (hereafter cited as Argus Notes); Ltr, Col Daley to Hist Div.
19. Combat Interv 75 with Baker.
20. One of the German prisoners captured in Vossenack said his company commander had tried desperately to determine the identity of these new-type American troops who wore this new-type equipment-the hip boots.
21. Story of 146th Engrs is from the following: Combat Interv 75 with Isley, Baker, and Ball; Capt Ball, Rpt of Action of Co A, 146th Engrs, in Vossenack(hereafter cited as Ball Rpt), Combat Interv File 75.
22. Combat Interv 75 with Lutz, Isley, Daley; Sonnefield Statement; Setliffe Rpt; Col Isley, Notes on Opns of the 146th Engrs in recapture and defense of Vossenack (hereafter cited as Isley Notes); Ltr, Col Daley to Hist Div.
23. Combat Interv 75 with Pruden, Nesbitt.
24. Combat Interv 75 with White, Daley, Bane, Makousky, Doherty, Isley, Creegan, S Sgt Benjamin A. P. Cipra, Jr., Co C, 1340th Engrs; Sonnefield Statement.
25. 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44; Combat Interv 76 with Cole.
26. 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 2-9 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Periodic Rpt, 6 Nov 44.
27. Combat Interv 76 with Davis-Murphy-Gardner-Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook,Leming-Quarrie-Jenkins-Ryan, Fuller; Combat Interv 75 with Isley.
28. Combat Interv 75 with Isley, White, Baker-Ball, and 1st Lt Bernard E. Meier, Co C, 146th Engrs; Lt Meier, chronological acct of events in Vossenack(hereafter cited as Meier Acct), Combat Inter File 75.
29. Combat Interv 75 with Isley, Baker-Ball.
30. Combat Interv 75 with Meier; Meier Acct.
31. Combat Interv 75 with Creegan, Doherty, Isley; Ltr, Col Daley to His tDiv.
32. Muglia Rpt; Morrison Rpt; Ltr, Maj Berndt to Hist Div.
33. Combat Interv 75 with Krieder; Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
34. Combat Interv 75 with Makousky, Cipra; Setliffe Rpt.
35. Morrison Rpt.
36. Combat Interv 77 with Rumbaugh-Joyce; Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne, Ripple; Combat Interv 75 with George; Setliffe Rpt.
37. Combat Interv 75 with George; Berndt Rpt.
38. 28th Div Arty Jnl, 6 Nov 44; V Corps Study, Arty Sec; 229th FA Bn AAR, Nov 44.
39. FUSA and IX TAC Sum, 6 Nov 44; V Corps Study, G-3 Air Sec; Combat Interv 74 with Howison.
40. Combat Interv 77 with 109th personnel; 109th Inf S-3 Jn1, 6 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
41. Combat Interv 77 with 110th personnel; 110th Inf S-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
42. The 109th Inf made prisoner identifications in this area of the following units: 18th and 20th Luftwaffe Fortress Battalions, 600th Army Engineer Battalion, and 253d Engineer Battalion, plus elements of the 275th Division. 28th Div G-2 Jnl, 6 Nov 44.
43. MS # A-905 (Waldenburg); ETHINT 56 (Gersdorff and Waldenburg); Sit Rpts,5 Nov 44, found in OB WEST KTB Anlagen 1.-10.XI.44.; 28th Div G-2 Jnl and File, 6 Nov 44; 89th Division Order of the Day.
44. V Corps Ltr of Instns, 28th Div G-3 Jnl and File, 6 Nov 44.