Action at Schmidt
Tanks Try To Cross the Kall
Before daylight the next morning (4 November), the tankers of Captain Hostrup's Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, warmed up their motors for another try at traversing the precipitous trail across the river. The 1st Platoon, commanded by 1st Lt. Raymond E. Fleig in the forward tank, was to lead.
Lieutenant Fleig's tank had only just entered the woods and begun to advance along the slippery narrow woods trail when it was jarred suddenly by an explosion. It had struck a mine which had evidently gone undetected when the engineers had swept the road. Although no one was injured, the mine disabled a track, and the tank partially blocked the trail. (Map 24)
The platoon sergeant, S. Sgt. Anthony R. Spooner, suggested winching the other tanks around Lieutenant Fleig's immobilized tank. Using the tow cable from Fleig's tank and the tank itself as a pivot, Spooner winched his own second tank around and back onto the narrow trail. Fleig boarded what now became the lead tank and continued down the trail, directing Sergeant Spooner to repeat the process to get the remaining three tanks of the platoon around the obstacle.
As Lieutenant Fleig continued to inch his tank down the dark trail, sharp curves in the road which had not been revealed in previous map studies necessitated much stopping and backing. The lieutenant noticed that his tank was tearing away part of the thin left shoulder of the trail but considered the damage not serious enough to hold up vehicles in his rear. With slow, painstaking effort, he made his way toward the river, crossed the bridge, and proceeded up the opposite slope. There the route presented little difficulty except for three switchbacks where Fleig had to dismount and direct his driver. It was just beginning to grow light when his tank churned alone into Kommerscheidt.
Back at the start of the wooded portion of the trail, Sergeant Spooner succeeded in winching the three remaining tanks of the platoon around the disabled tank. Sgt. Jack L. Barton's tank in the lead came to a sharp bend made even more precarious by a large outcropping of rock from the right bank. Despite all efforts at caution, Barton's tank partially threw a track and was stopped. Captain Hostrup came forward to determine the difficulty and directed the next tank in line under Sergeant Spooner to tow Sergeant Barton's lead tank back onto the trail. The expedient worked, and the track was righted. Using Spooner's tank as an anchor, Barton successfully rounded the curve. When he in turn
Tanks on the Kall Trail
4 November 1944
anchored the rear tank, it too passed the obstacle and both tanks continued.
Making contact with Lieutenant Huston, whose engineer platoon from Company B, 20th Engineers, was working on the trail, Captain Hostrup asked that the engineers blow off the projecting rock. The lieutenant had no demolitions, but he made use of three German Teller mines that had previously been removed from the trail. The resulting explosion did little more than nick the sharpest projection of the rock.
The last tank in line, Sgt. James J. Markey's, in spite of difficulty with a crumbling left bank, arrived at the rock outcropping a few minutes later. The engineer platoon assisted in guiding it safely around the bend. Although four tanks were now past the initial obstacles of the narrow trail, the last three had some distance to go before they would be in a position to assist the defense of Kommerscheidt and Schmidt. It was still not quite daylight.1
German Counterattack on Schmidt
4 November 1944
Action at Schmidt
Sunrise on 4 November was at 0732. A few minutes before came the noise of enemy artillery pieces opening fire, and a hail of shells began to crash among the hastily prepared defenses in the southern edge of Schmidt. The shelling walked back and forth through the town for more than thirty minutes. Coming from at least three directions--northeast, east, and southeast--the fire was so intense that it seemed to many of the infantry defenders to originate from every angle.
In line to meet the expected enemy counterattack the 3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, as previously noted, was in a perimeter defense of the town. (Map IX)2 To the east and southeast Company L defended the area between the Harscheidt and Hasenfeld roads. To the south and southwest was Company K between the Hasenfeld and Strauch roads. Company I, with only two rifle platoons and its light machine gun section, had its 2d Platoon on the north and its 3d Platoon on the northwest. A section of heavy machine guns from Company M was with Company L and another with Company K, while the remaining heavy machine gun platoon was on the north edge of town covering an open field and wooded draw to the north near the 2d Platoon, Company I. The 81-mm. mortars were dug in on the northern edge of town near the machine gun platoon, and the battalion command post was in a pillbox just west of the Kommerscheidt road 300 yards from Schmidt. Antitank defense consisted of uncamouflaged mines hastily strung across the Harscheidt, Hasenfeld, and Strauch roads and covered with small arms and organic bazookas.
Probably the first to sight enemy forces was Company I's 2d Platoon on the left of the Harscheidt road. Shortly after dawn a runner reported to Capt. Raymond R. Rokey at the company CP that observers had spotted some sixty enemy infantry in a patch of thin woods about a thousand yards northeast of Schmidt, seemingly milling around forming for an attack. Having no communication with his platoons except by runner, Captain Rokey left immediately for the 2d Platoon area. Although the artillery forward observer at Company I's CP promptly put in a call for artillery fire, for some reason the call produced no result until much later.3
Company M machine gunners with the left flank of Company L on the east fired on ten or fifteen enemy soldiers who emerged from the woods and dashed for a group of houses at Zubendchen, a settlement north of the Harscheidt road. From here the Germans evidently intended to regroup and make their way into Schmidt. A section of 81-mm. mortars directed its fire at the houses, scoring at least one or two direct hits, and observers saw Germans crawling back toward the woods.
Other enemy infantrymen continued to advance from the northeast. Company I's 2d platoon employed its small
KALL TRAIL SUPPLY ROUTE between Vossenack and Kommerscheidt on Vossenack side of gorge. Note thrown tank tracks on the right.
arms weapons to repulse a wavering, un-co-ordinated effort, preceded by light mortar fire, which was launched against its northeast position, possibly by the group seen earlier readying for an attack.
A heavier assault struck almost simultaneously against the right-flank position of Company L along the Hasenfeld road on the southeast. Automatic riflemen with the defending platoon opened up as the enemy crossed a small hill to the front. A German machine gun less than fifty yards away at the base of a building in the uncleared southeastern edge of Schmidt returned the fire. When a squad leader, S. Sgt. Frank Ripperdam, crawled forward with several of his men until he was almost on top of the enemy gun, five enemy soldiers jumped up, yelling in English, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" Sergeant Ripperdam and two other men stood up to accept the expected surrender, only to have the Germans jump back quickly into their emplacement and open fire with the machine gun. Dropping again to the ground, the sergeant directed a rifle
KALL TRAIL SUPPLY ROUTE with Kommerscheidt side of gorge in the background.
grenadier to fire at the machine gun. Ripperdam saw the grenade hit at least two of the Germans, but still the machine gun fired. One of the Company L men suddenly sprang erect and ran forward behind the slight concealment of a sparse hedgerow, firing his rifle in a one-man assault. The Germans shifted their gun and raked his body with fire, killing him instantly. Sergeant Ripperdam and the remaining men withdrew to their defensive ring, but the Germans too had evidently been discouraged, for there was no more fire from the position.
Holding the enemy to their front with small arms and mortar fire, the men on Company L's right flank could see Germans infiltrating on their right through the Company K positions. An enemy machine gun opened fire from a road junction near the uncleared houses on the Hasenfeld road and prevented even the wounded from crossing the street to the north to reach the company medics. On all sides of Schmidt except the north the enemy was now attacking.
Supporting artillery of the 229th Field Artillery Battalion was engaged in harassing fires until 0823 when the air observation post called for and received twelve
rounds on enemy personnel in the vicinity of Harscheidt. A previous call from the forward observer with Company I still had produced no results. At 0850 American artillery joined the battle with its first really effective defensive fires, 216 rounds of TOT on a concentration of enemy tanks to the east, just south of the Harscheidt-Schmidt road. From that time on, artillery played its part in the battle, the 229th alone firing 373 rounds until 1000, and supporting corps artillery and the 108th Field Artillery Battalion of 155's joining the defense.4
Enemy tanks suddenly entered the battle, obviously determined to exploit the minor successes won by the advance infantry. With the tanks came other German infantry: five tanks and a battalion of infantry were reported along the Harscheidt road and another five tanks and battalion of infantry along the Hasenfeld road.5
The defenders of the two main roads opened up with their rocket launchers, but the enemy tanks rumbled effortlessly on, firing their big guns into foxholes and buildings with blasts whose concussion could kill if the shell fragments did not. On the Hasenfeld road, at least one Company L bazooka scored a hit on one of the tanks; it stopped only briefly, swung off to one side, and clanked on its methodically destructive way. Such seeming immunity demoralized the men who saw it.
The attack against Company K on the south had spilled over to the southwest, and was joined by other enemy infantry attacking from the west. Company I's 3d Platoon on the right of the Strauch road found itself under assault. A runner reported the situation to Captain Rokey, the company commander, who was still with his hard-pressed 2d Platoon on the north. Rokey sent word back for the 3d Platoon to withdraw from its foxholes in the open field to the cover of the houses.
Along the Harscheidt and Hasenfeld roads the German tanks spotted the feeble rows of mines, disdainfully pulled off to the sides, and skirted them. Then they were among the buildings of the town and the foxholes of the defenders, systematically pumping round after round into the positions. On the south and southwest the situation rapidly disintegrated. Company K's defenses broke under the attack.
American riflemen streamed from their foxholes into the woods to the southwest. As they sought relief from the pounding they moved, perhaps unwittingly, farther into German territory. They were joined in their flight by some men from Company L.
Another Company K group of about platoon size retreated into the Company L sector and there told a platoon leader that the Germans had knocked out one of Company K's attached heavy machine guns and captured the other. The enemy had completely overrun the company's positions.
The Company L platoon leader sent
three men to his company command post in the vicinity of the church in the center of town to get a better picture of the over-all situation. The men quickly returned, reporting that they had been prevented from reaching the company CP by fire from Germans established in the church. The three men had the impression that everyone on their right had withdrawn.
The enemy tanks plunged directly through the positions of the 1st Platoon, Company L, in the center of the company's sector on the east. They overran the company's 60-mm. mortars and knocked out two of them with direct hits from their hull guns. Notifying the company command post that they could not hold, the Americans retreated to the woods on the southwest where they had seen Company K troops withdrawing.
Now the retreat of small groups and platoons was turning into a disorderly general exodus. Captain Rokey ordered his 2d Platoon, Company I, to pull back to the protection of the buildings, but the enemy fire was so intense that control became virtually impossible. The men fled, not to the buildings as they had been ordered, but north and west over the open ground and into the woods in the direction of Kommerscheidt, there finding themselves intermingled with other fleeing members of the battalion. It was difficult to find large groups from one unit.
In the Company K sector, 2d Lt. Richard Tyo, a platoon leader, had noticed the withdrawal of the company's machine gun section and 1st Platoon. On being told by the men that they had orders to withdraw, Lieutenant Tyo took charge and led them back through the houses of Schmidt toward the north and Kommerscheidt. On the way they passed two men from the company's 3d Platoon, one with a broken leg and the other lying wounded in his foxhole. The wounded men said their platoon had gone "that way" and pointed toward the woods to the southwest. Tyo and his group continued north, however, and joined the confused men struggling to get back to Kommerscheidt. There was no time to take along the wounded.
The headquarters groups of Companies L and K tried to form a line in the center of Schmidt, but even this small semblance of order was soon confusion again. Someone in the new line said an order had come to withdraw, the word spread quickly, and none questioned its source. A Company K man remembered the forty-five prisoners in the near-by basement, and two men headed them back double-time toward Kommerscheidt. The other men joined the mass moving out of Schmidt.
The 81-mm. mortar platoon on the northern edge of town had received its first indication of counterattack shortly after daybreak when a round from an 88-mm. gun crashed against the house near the dug-in mortars, seriously wounding a man outside the small building in which the mortar men were sleeping. The mortar men then joined in defensive fires on call from the rifle companies and were so intent on their job that they did not notice that the rifle companies were withdrawing. Well along in the morning a lieutenant from Company I stopped at their position and told them the rifle companies had all fallen back and enemy tanks were only a few houses away. Carrying the seriously wounded man on a stretcher made from a ladder, the mortar men withdrew. Once the withdrawal
GERMAN PRISONERS OF WAR being escorted to the rear by military policemen on 4 November. Forty-five prisoners were captured the day before during the assault on Schmidt.
had begun, it lost all semblance of organization; each little group made its way back toward Kommerscheidt on its own.
The time was now about 1000, and with or without orders Schmidt was being abandoned. The battalion commander notified those companies with whom he still had contact that the battalion CP was pulling its switchboard and that they should withdraw.
Little could be done for the seriously wounded unable to join the retreat. The battalion aid station was far back, at the moment in the Kall River gorge. Several company aid men stayed behind with the wounded to lend what assistance they could. The bodies of the dead were left where they had fallen.
Most of the American troops who were to get out of Schmidt had evidently done so by about 1100, although an occasional straggler continued to emerge until about noon. By 1230 the loss of Schmidt was apparently recognized at 28th Division headquarters, for the air control officer directed the 396th Squadron of the 366th Group (P-47's) to attack the town. The
squadron termed results of the bombing "excellent."6
Struggle With the Main Supply Route
While the 3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, was engaged in its battle for survival in Schmidt, other troops of the regiment and supporting units were engaged in activity which weighed heavily on the 3d Battalion's battle.
The 3d Battalion aid station had received a message from Colonel Flood, the battalion commander, at 0500 to displace forward from Germeter where, except for a forward collecting station under Lieutenant Muglia, it had remained even after its battalion had taken Schmidt. The aid station troops responded to the order by establishing themselves at the church in Vossenack while Muglia took some of the equipment and personnel on to the edge of the woods alongside the Kall trail. He had left one litter squad there the night before. Sending all available litter bearers to comb the area for casualties, the lieutenant and T/3 John M. Shedio reconnoitered for an aid station site.
Beside the trail about 300 yards from the Kall River, Muglia found a log dugout approximately twelve by eighteen feet in size. (See Map 24.) The entire dugout was underground except for a front partially barricaded with rocks. The roof had been constructed of two layers of heavy logs, thus providing excellent protection from all shelling except direct hits. While the runner went back to Vossenack for the battalion surgeon, Capt. Michael DeMarco, and the remainder of the 3d Battalion medical personnel, Lieutenant Muglia displayed a Red Cross panel at the cabin and patients began to collect. An ambulance loading point was established at the trail's entrance into the woods.7
The three-weasel supply train which had reached Schmidt after midnight had been under the command of 1st Lt. William George, the 3d Battalion motor officer. Just before dawn the three weasels returned to Germeter, carrying those men who had been wounded in the Schmidt capture and mop-up. Lieutenant George then agreed to return to Schmidt with the battalion Antitank Platoon leader to take back a miscellaneous load of ammunition. On reaching the entrance of the main supply route into the woods southeast of Vossenack shortly after dawn, the party found the trail blocked by Lieutenant Fleig's abandoned tank. Although other tanks had previously passed this obstacle, the group gave up its supply attempt when the enemy shelled the area and one of the supply sergeants was killed.8
The abandoned tank gave trouble as well to those tanks of Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, which had not yet passed the initial obstacles of the supply route. Four had managed to get through (at
least one was in Kommerscheidt at dawn), but the rest were still struggling with the narrow trail. The 2d Platoon, which had only three tanks left, began its journey before daylight. In S. Sgt. Anthony S. Zaroslinski's lead tank rode Lieutenant Clarke, whose own vehicle had been immobilized by a mine the day before in Vossenack. When his tank reached Fleig's abandoned tank, Sergeant Zaroslinski, unaware that the 1st Platoon had successfully bypassed the obstacle by winching its tanks around it, attempted to pass on the left. The venture ended disastrously: Zaroslinski's tank slipped off the road, and the sergeant found himself unable to back it up because of the steep and slippery incline. The crew dismounted to investigate, and enemy shells struck home, killing Zaroslinski and wounding Lieutenant Clarke.
Sgt. Walton R. Allen, commanding the next tank in column, decided to try squeezing between the two disabled tanks; using Sergeant Zaroslinski's tank as a buffer on the left to keep his own tank from sliding into the draw. Succeeding, he dismounted and turned his tank over to Sgt. Kenneth E. Yarman, who commanded the next tank in the column. Allen then led Yarman's tank through, boarded it, and continued down the trail.
Sergeant Yarman, now commanding the lead tank of the 2d Platoon, reached the bend where the rock outcropping made passage so difficult. As he tried to pass, his tank slipped off the left of the trail and threw its left track. The next tank under Sergeant Allen reached a point short of the outcropping and also slipped off the trail to the left, throwing both its tracks. About the same time, Sergeant Markey, who commanded the last tank of the leading 1st Platoon and was presumably already past the Kall, reported back to his company commander, Captain Hostrup, at the rock outcropping. His tank had gotten stuck near the bottom of the gorge and had also thrown a track.
Only one tank, commanded by Lieutenant Fleig, had reached Kommerscheidt. Two others were now past the river. But behind them and full on the vital trail sat five disabled tanks. Still farther to the rear and waiting to come forward were the four tanks of the 3d Platoon. While the armor remained stymied on the Kall trail, precious time was slipping by. For some time now the crewmen had been hearing the battle noises from Schmidt, and by 1100 occasional stragglers from the Schmidt battle had begun to pass them going toward the rear.9
Still working with hand tools on the Kall trail were Lieutenant Huston's platoon from Company B, 20th Engineers, and all of Company A, 20th Engineers. Five Germans surrendered voluntarily to Company A's security guards as the unit worked east of the river. Occasional enemy artillery fire wounded six of its men. Huston's Company B platoon, informed by the tankers that they thought they could replace the tracks on their disabled tanks without too much delay, worked to repair the damage done by the tanks to the delicate left bank of the trail. Although almost twenty-four hours had elapsed since Company K, 112th Infantry, had first entered Schmidt, higher commanders still seemed unaware of the poor condition of the Kall trail. Only one engineer company and an additional
Defense of Kommerscheidt
4 November 1944
platoon, equipped with hand tools and an air compressor but no demolitions, were working on the trail, and no one was blocking the north-south river road, both ends of which led into enemy territory.10
While the struggle with obstacles on the supply route went on and while the battle raged in Schmidt, the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, continued to hold its Vossenack ridge defenses. An enemy patrol in force hit Company F at approximately 0630 but was beaten off with small arms fire and artillery support on call from the 229th Field Artillery Battalion.11 When daylight came, the defenders had to steel their nerves against relentless enemy shelling. It seemed to the soldiers forward of Vossenack that the enemy concentrated his fire on each foxhole until he believed its occupants knocked out, then moved on. The shelling forced the 2d Battalion to move its command post during the day to an air-raid shelter about a hundred yards west of the church on the north side of the street. The companies initiated a practice of bringing as many men as possible into the houses during daylight, leaving only a skeleton force on the ridge.
In the western end of Vossenack, troops carried on their duties and traffic continued to flow in and out of the town. Someone coming into Vossenack for only a short time, perhaps during one of the inevitable lulls in the fire, might not have considered the shelling particularly effective. But the foot soldiers knew different. To them in their exposed foxholes, a lull was only a time of apprehensive waiting for the next bursts. The cumulative effect was beginning to tell.12
The Battle for Kommerscheidt
At dawn on 4 November, just before the Germans counterattacked at Schmidt, the officers of Companies A and D, 112th Infantry, took stock of their defensive situation in Kommerscheidt and made minor adjustments to the positions they had moved into the night before.13 (Map X) The Americans found themselves situated on the lower portion of the Kommerscheidt-Schmidt ridge, with dense wooded draws on three sides, and another wooded draw curving around slightly to their front (southeast). Their defenses were generally on either flank of
the town and south of the houses along the town's main east-west street. Lack of troops had caused them to forego occupying the houses along the southern road toward Schmidt. Company C was in a reserve position in the edge of the woods to the rear, and Company B and a platoon of Company D's heavy machine guns were still back at Richelskaul. They had tank support initially from only one tank, that of Lieutenant Fleig, Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, but just before noon Fleig's tank was joined by those of Sergeants Barton and Spooner. The battalion command post was in a shallow, partially covered dugout in an orchard just north of the town, and the aid station was in the cellar of a house on the northern edge of town. After daylight the enemy harassed the Kommerscheidt positions with occasional light artillery and mortar concentrations, but it was from the direction of Schmidt that the men could hear the heavier firing.
By midmorning it was evident that something disastrous was happening in Schmidt. Small groups of frightened, disorganized men began to filter back through the Kommerscheidt positions with stories that "they're throwing everything they've got at us." By 1030 the scattered groups had reached the proportions of a demoralized mob, reluctant to respond to orders of officers, noncommissioned officers, and men of Companies A and D seeking to augment the Kommerscheidt defenses.
Within the mass of retreating men there were frantic efforts to stem the withdrawal, and when the enemy did not immediately pursue his Schmidt success groups of 3d Battalion troops began to reorganize to assist the 1st Battalion. Company I, withdrawing through the wooded draw southeast of Kommerscheidt, found it had about seventy-two men, and, with a few stragglers from other companies, stopped in Kommerscheidt and joined the center of the defense on the south. Approximately twenty-six men with Sergeant Ripperdam of Company L, augmented by a small group of battalion headquarters personnel, went into position on the northwest fringe of town, facing slightly south of west, on the right flank of the 3d Platoon, Company A. The remnants of Company K, including the group which had retreated with Lieutenant Tyo, were organized into two understrength platoons: one, with a strength of about fourteen men, dug in to the rear of Kommerscheidt (north); the other faced the northeast to guard the left flank. The Company D commander, Capt. John B. Huyck, made contact with Captain Piercey, Company M commander, and co-ordinated the fire of Company D's weapons with those surviving from Company M, three 81-mm. mortars without ammunition and three heavy machine guns. The latter went into position on the southwest edge of Kommerscheidt. Despite these efforts at stopping the retreat, many men continued past Kommerscheidt. Some were stopped at the Company C woods-line position, but others withdrew all the way to Vossenack and Germeter. Rough estimates indicated that only about 200 men of the 3d Battalion were reorganized to join Companies A and D in defending Kommerscheidt.14
Even as the 3d Battalion was being knocked out of Schmidt, the battalion's
assistant S-3, 1st Lt. Leon Simon, was making his way forward with a regimental order which instructed the 3d Battalion to hold temporarily in Schmidt while the 110th Infantry continued its attack against Raffelsbrand. Lieutenant Simon got no farther than Kommerscheidt and there was directed by Colonel Flood, the 3d Battalion commander, to return and tell regiment he absolutely had to have more tanks. Despite radio communication with Kommerscheidt, the Schmidt action was a confused blur at regimental headquarters west of Germeter along the Weisser Weh Creek. Before Lieutenant Simon returned, the regimental executive officer, Lt. Col. Landon J. Lockett, and the S-2, Capt. Hunter M. Montgomery, accompanied by two photographers and a driver, went forward in a jeep in an effort to clarify the situation. When Simon returned to regiment, there had been no word from Colonel Lockett's party. Colonel Peterson, the regimental commander, told Simon to lead him to Kommerscheidt; and shortly after they left, the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. George A. Davis, and his aide also departed for Kommerscheidt.15
Although the enemy did not immediately pursue his attack against Kommerscheidt, artillery fire and direct fire from tanks in Schmidt harassed attempts at reorganization. Then, about 1400, at least five enemy tanks,16 accompanied by a small force of infantry, attacked from the wooded draw on the southeast. There could be no doubt now: Kommerscheidt held next priority on the German schedule of counterattacks.
The enemy tanks, Mark IV's and V's,17 imitated the tactics they had used so effectively earlier in the day in Schmidt, standing out of effective bazooka range and firing round after round into the foxholes and battle-scarred buildings. Artillery observers with the defenders called for numerous concentrations against the attack, but the German tanks did not stop. From Schmidt other German direct-fire weapons, possibly including tanks, supported the assault.18 From 1000 to 1700 the 229th Field Artillery Battalion fired at least 462 rounds in the vicinity of Kommerscheidt-Schmidt, and fires were further augmented by the 155-mm. guns under corps control and the 108th Field Artillery Battalion. Capt. W. M. Chmura, a liaison officer from the 229th Field Artillery Battalion, said these supporting fires were "terrific."19
As the attack hit, Lieutenant Fleig (whose tank had been the first to arrive in Kommerscheidt) and the two other
tankers of Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, were in a partially defiladed position in a slight draw in the open just northwest of Kommerscheidt near the western woods line. The tankmen pulled their Shermans up on a slight rise and fired at the enemy tanks, Fleig claiming two of the attackers knocked out and his companions a third. Noticing that the infantry was retreating from the left flank of the town, Fleig moved in that direction into a sparse orchard just in time to see a Mark V Panther coming into position. At a range of 200 to 300 yards, Fleig fired, hitting the German tank twice; but he was using high explosive ammunition, and the Panther's tough hide was not damaged. The lieutenant discovered then that he had no armor-piercing ammunition available, all of it being outside in the sponson rack. When the German crewmen, evidently frightened by the high explosive hits, jumped out of their tank, Fleig ceased firing and turned his turret to get at his rack and the armor-piercing ammunition. The Germans seized the opportunity to re-enter their tank and open fire, but their first round was a miss. Working feverishly, Lieutenant Fleig and his crew obtained the armor-piercing ammunition and returned the fire. Their first round cut the barrel of the German gun. Three more rounds in quick succession tore into the left side of the Panther's hull, setting the tank afire and killing all its crew. Fleig returned to the fight on the town's right flank.20
The surviving enemy tanks continued to blast the positions around the town. One tank worked its way up a trail on the southwest where Sgt. Tony Kudiak, a 1st Battalion headquarters man acting as a rifleman, and Pvt. Paul Lealsy crept out of their holes to meet it with a bazooka. Spotting the two Americans, the German turned his machine guns on them, then his hull gun, but both times he missed. Kudiak and Lealsy returned to get riflemen for protection, and then came back. While they were gone, the tank approached to within twenty-five yards of a stone building in the southern edge of town, a second tank pulling into position near where the first had been initially. Just then a P-47 airplane roared down and dropped two bombs. The first German tank was so damaged by the bombs that it could not move, although it still continued to fire. Sergeant Kudiak finished it off with one bazooka rocket which entered on one side just above the track, setting the tank afire. The second German tank backed off without firing.21
The supporting P-47's were bombing and strafing so close to Kommerscheidt (the German tank was knocked out virtually within the town) that the riflemen felt that the pilots did not know American troops were there. They welcomed the support, but they threw out colored identification panels to make sure the pilots knew who held the town. The P-47's were probably from the 397th Squadron, 368th Group, which was over the Schmidt area from 1337 to 1500. The squadron reported engaging a concentration of more than fifteen vehicles, and claimed one armored vehicle destroyed and two damaged.
In the midst of the battle, Colonel Peterson arrived on foot at the northern woods line. He had abandoned his regimental
command jeep just west of the Kall River because of the trail difficulties. At the woods line he took charge of about thirty stragglers who had been assembled there from the 3d Battalion and led them into Kommerscheidt.
With the arrival of air support and the continued hammering by artillery, mortars, small arms, and the three tanks, the German assault was stopped about 1600. The defenders had sustained numerous personnel casualties, but in the process they had knocked out at least five German tanks without losing one of their own three. Just how big a role a small number of tanks might have played had they been available for the earlier defense of Schmidt was clearly illustrated by the temporary success at Kommerscheidt.22
General Davis, the assistant division commander, who had also come forward during the afternoon, conferred in Kommerscheidt with Colonel Peterson and the battalion commanders in order to get a clearer picture of the situation. He then radioed information to division on the condition of men and equipment involved in the fight beyond the Kall. He spent the night in a Kommerscheidt cellar and returned to the rear the next morning.23
As night came, the men of Companies A and D and the remnants of the 3d Battalion worked to consolidate their Kommerscheidt positions in the face of continued enemy artillery harassment. Colonel Peterson, also deciding to spend the night in Kommerscheidt, warned Lieutenant Fleig not to withdraw his tanks for any reason, including servicing. He feared an enemy counterattack that night and was concerned that, if even this small tank force were withdrawn, the nervous infantry might pull out too.
About 1500 that afternoon division had ordered the units in Kommerscheidt to attack to retake Schmidt, but apparently no one on the ground had entertained any illusions about immediate compliance. The problem then had been to maintain the Kommerscheidt position.24
The Kall Struggle Continues
While the infantry and tanks fought on in Kommerscheidt, the engineers were proceeding with their job on the main supply route. Company A, 20th Engineers, continued to work on the switchback curves east of the Kall, and Lieutenant Huston's platoon from Company B, 20th Engineers, struggled with the even more difficult west portion of the trail. Although explosives had now been brought forward for use on the rock outcropping, Huston's men could do no blasting for fear of further disabling the tanks that were being worked on near by.25
Captain Lutz, the Company B commander, sent a six-man patrol under Lieutenant Horn from Vossenack to check on a supposition that there was an alternate route to the Kall farther to the southwest. The patrol returned after having become involved in a fire fight during its reconnaissance. It had killed three Germans and captured four prisoners. The proposed alternate route, Lieutenant
Horn reported, was a swampy firebreak blocked by felled trees. Captain Lutz then ordered Horn to move with his platoon to the assistance of Huston on the Kall trail.26
Company A's commander, Capt. Henry R. Doherty, satisfied with the work done by his men on the trail east of the river, decided about 1430 to move his company back across the Kall and into the woods south of Vossenack to bivouac for the night. As he started the company back and reached the exit of the trail from the woods southeast of Vossenack, he met General Davis going forward to Kommerscheidt. The general ordered the company to take up a specified defensive position on either side of the trail and to "guard the road near the bridge." Captain Doherty reluctantly obeyed the order, placing his 3d Platoon under 1st Lt. Aurelio Pellino in the woods north of the trail near the western edge of the woods and the 1st and 2d Platoons generally astride the trail where it entered the woods. The 3d Platoon was told to put a security guard of three men under T/4 James A. Krieder beside the bridge itself. Except for the location of this guard, the positions designated were of little value in defending the supply route, for a thick expanse of woods separated the defenders from the bridge and the defense covered only one part of the trail, that near the entrance into the woods.27
By noon on 4 November the tankers of Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, had accomplished little toward putting back into commission their five disabled tanks along the Kall trail west of the river. The company commander, Captain Hostrup, found that Sergeant Markey's tank, nearest the bridge, could not be pulled out, but he discovered a complicated switchback trail running to the left that would permit passage around it. (See Map 24.) Sergeant Yarman's tank, lead vehicle of the 2d Platoon, was at the sharp road bend where the rock outcropping hindered passage and had a thrown track which the tankers considered could be replaced. Approximately 150 yards behind was Sergeant Allen's tank with both tracks thrown. Captain Hostrup felt that maintenance personnel would be necessary to put Sergeant Allen's tank into operation, although with the aid of Lieutenant Huston's engineer platoon the right bank of the trail beside it could be dug away sufficiently to allow other traffic to pass. The other two tanks were those abandoned by Lieutenant Fleig and Lieutenant Clarke (Sergeant Zaroslinski's tank) near the entrance to the woods, but other tanks had successfully maneuvered past them.
After several hours of trying, the tankers finally managed to replace the track on Sergeant Yarman's tank. Yarman pulled ahead about ten feet and the tank again threw the track, this time damaging the left idler wheel. Again the track was replaced, again Yarman drove a short distance ahead, and again the track jumped off. By this time it was almost 1600 and men from the Kommerscheidt action were pouring back along the trail, bringing with them tales of the fierce pounding to which they had been subjected. Radioing Colonel Ripple, his battalion commander, Captain Hostrup insisted that, if more tanks were to get through to Kommerscheidt, more engineers were needed. Colonel Ripple
radioed back just at dark (about 1730) that more engineers were forthcoming and that maintenance crews for the tanks were on the way.
The Company A, 707th, maintenance officer, 1st Lt. Stanley Lisy, his crew, and the battalion maintenance officer, Capt. George A. Harris, reached the disabled tanks about 1900. Starting to work immediately on Sergeant Yarman's tank near the rock outcropping, Lieutenant Lisy's crew had the troublesome track on again by 2200. The tank moved twenty-five yards farther and off came the track. Diagnosing now that the difficulty lay in the damaged idler wheel, the men secured a good idler wheel from Lieutenant Fleig's abandoned tank at the head of the trail and went to work to install it on Sergeant Yarman's tank.28
Soon after dark a tank supply group of five weasels with quarter-ton trailers loaded with rations, tank ammunition, and .30-caliber ammunition for the infantry had started for Kommerscheidt from Germeter. Learning in Vossenack that difficulties still existed on the main supply route across the Kall, its officers, Capt. William H. Pynchon, S-4, 707th Tank Battalion, and 1st Lt. Howard S. Rogers, Reconnaissance Platoon leader, Headquarters Company, 707th, directed resupply of the tanks of Company C, 707th, in Vossenack and went on ahead by jeep to reconnoiter the Kall trail. They returned later for the supply train, and the jeep and five weasels with trailers reached the woods entrance of the trail shortly after midnight. A guide carrying a white handkerchief went on foot in front of each vehicle. At a point where the trail slanted perceptibly toward the left and was jagged with sharp rock projections, the lead weasel threw a track. It took about fifteen minutes to replace the track before the column could continue.
Enemy artillery fire constantly harassed the trail area, but the supply column reached Sergeant Yarman's tank without casualties about 0100. Intensifying its efforts to install the new idler wheel on the tank, the maintenance crew completed the job at approximately 0200. As the tank started forward, success at last within the grasp of the exasperated crewmen, it moved only about ten yards before the left shoulder of the trail gave way, and once more off came the track. There was scarcely any alternative except to comply with a message that had been brought Captain Hostrup, the tank company commander, by Captain Pynchon: "Holiday 6 [General Cota, division commander] wants to give you all the time possible to retrieve your vehicles, BUT that main supply route must be open by daybreak. If necessary, you will roll your immobilized tanks down the slope and into the draw."29
Captain Hostrup ordered Sergeant Allen, whose tank was 150 yards up the hill, to fasten the tow cable of his tank to a tree and pull himself as far off the road as possible. (Jeeps and weasels could pass Sergeant Allen's tank while larger vehicles could not.) Sergeant Yarman's tank at the rock outcropping was also pulled off to the left with tow cables fastened on trees, although digging on the right bank was still necessary to provide sufficient space for passage. At Lieutenant Fleig's and Sergeant Zaroslinski's abandoned tanks near the beginning of
the difficult section of the trail, it had already been determined that tanks could pass, and at Sergeant Markey's tank nearer the bottom of the draw, the complicated switchback to the left would provide passage without necessitating removal of his tank.
Captain Pynchon's men assisted in the digging at Sergeant Yarman's tank near the rock outcropping, but not until about 0300 was passage assured. The men of the supply train were getting worried, for they hoped to complete their mission to Kommerscheidt and return before daylight provided the enemy visibility on the open slope southeast of Vossenack. The moon was up by the time they moved out again, and visibility in the wooded river draw had improved.
As they reached Sergeant Markey's tank at the switchback, first glance showed that the heavily laden quarter-ton trailers would have to be manhandled around abrupt bends in the trail, and even then the weasels would have to do a good deal of slow backing and turning in order to manage the tortuous route. (Map 25) Bisecting the trail above and below Sergeant Markey's tank were two branches of a road fork formed, some seventy yards to the north, by the north-south river road and a road leading to the Mestrenger Muehle. To pass Sergeant Markey's tank, each weasel had to be detached from its trailer, then backed up the river road to the north because the short turn at the intersection of the Kall trail and the river road was too abrupt for a forward turn. At the sharp junction seventy yards to the north the weasel's trailers were reattached after having been pulled by hand over the slippery, rock-studded trail; and the weasels and trailers then continued to the south along the Mestrenger Muehle trail and back onto the main trail. The movement was slow, tedious, and exasperating.
Beyond the Kall the supply train encountered two more switchbacks which necessitated 180-degree turns, and the laborious task of manhandling the heavy trailers had to be repeated. Despite these difficulties, the supply group reached
Kommerscheidt about 0430. It was just beginning to get light when the weasels returned to their supply assembly point back at Germeter.30
Earlier in the evening, before Captain Pynchon's supply train had gone forward,
the 3d Platoon, Company B, 20th Engineers, under 2d Lt. Reynold A. Ossola, was sent to assist Lieutenant Huston's and Lieutenant Horn's engineer platoons on the difficult western section of the Kall trail. With the 3d Platoon went a second air compressor, 300 pounds of TNT, and a second bulldozer. After the tanks were partially removed from the trail and Captain Pynchon's supply column had passed, the engineers blasted the rock outcropping. By 0400 the trail was completely open. Ossola's platoon remained for maintenance work on the trail, and Huston's and Horn's platoons returned before dawn for rest in Vossenack.31
Company C, 20th Engineers, originally in battalion reserve, had moved during midmorning of 4 November to a forward bivouac area near Germeter, and the company's 2d Platoon had gone out about 1330 on a mine-clearing mission for the 109th Infantry. The headquarters group and 1st Platoon, under the company commander, Capt. Walter C. Mahaley, were ordered to move beyond the Kall to a defensive bivouac preparatory to assisting Company A, 20th Engineers, on supply route maintenance the next day. They left Germeter about 2330 on foot and by 0300 (5 November) were in bivouac near Company C, 112th Infantry, where the main supply route formed a large wooded loop on the hill above the east-bank switchbacks. One squad of the 3d Platoon had been ordered to remain at Germeter to guard a rear explosives dump. The other two squads were to move by truck with 5,000 pounds of explosives to the vicinity of the Kall bridge. There they were to be prepared to blow pillboxes in the Kommerscheidt-Schmidt area. Under the platoon leader, 2d Lt. Benjamin Johns, these two squads, the 1st and 3d, arrived in Vossenack after midnight, learned that the Kall trail was still clogged with tanks, and returned to the forward bivouac area near Germeter.32
Command and the Kall Trail
Misinformation throughout the day of 4 November had kept division headquarters ill-informed about the condition of the vital main supply route across the Kall gorge. Most reports repeatedly asserted that the supply route was open, thus contributing to failure of commanders to realize the seriousness of the situation. Neither regiment nor division had liaison officers on the spot. Not until approximately 1500 had General Cota intervened personally by ordering the 1171st Engineer Group commander, Col. Edmund K. Daley, to send a "competent officer" to supervise work on the trail. Colonel Daley not only visited the area himself but ordered the commander of the 20th Engineer Combat Battalion, Lt. Col. J. E. Sonnefield, to take personal charge. Although the 28th Division chief of staff ordered the division engineer at 1730 to take charge of the engineer operations in the Kall gorge, the real supervision apparently came from Colonel Sonnefield.33
893d Tank Destroyer Battalion Joins the Action
The 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, attached initially to the 28th Division as indirect artillery support but prepared to move forward to repel enemy tank attack, had only two gun companies available for commitment--Companies B and C. Throughout the action Company A was attached to the 102d Cavalry Group to the north. One Company C gun had developed a leaking recoil mechanism while firing the initial jump-off concentrations on 2 November and was evacuated. A total of twenty-three destroyers remained for commitment.
Until 4 November the tank destroyers were in indirect firing positions just south of Zweifall and north of Roetgen and were co-ordinated with the 28th Division artillery. By noon on that date the Company C destroyers had moved to new indirect firing positions 2,500 yards west of Richelskaul from which a reported German tank repair and maintenance shop in Nideggen would be within range. A Reconnaissance Company platoon leader attached to Company C, 1st Lt. Jack W. Fuller, went ahead to reconnoiter the Kall trail in the event the destroyers were later ordered to Kommerscheidt.
At approximately 1530 the 28th Division antitank officer, Maj. William W. Bodine, Jr., ordered Capt. Marion C. Pugh's Company C to send two platoons into Vossenack as antitank protection. After a preliminary reconnaissance, 1st Lt. Goodwin W. McElroy's 3d Platoon moved into Vossenack about 1700, going into positions on the south of town near the church. The 1st Platoon under 1st Lt. Turney W. Leonard took up a position of readiness near Germeter, and the 2d Platoon remained in the indirect fire positions west of Richelskaul.
Company B, 893d, started forward just before dark from the indirect fire positions south of Zweifall to move to the Germeter vicinity as further antitank protection. Several of the company's destroyers bogged down on the narrow, muddy forest road. When the remaining vehicles reached a point about a thousand yards southwest of Germeter, they met the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Samuel E. Mays, who ordered them off the road into indirect fire positions. The area farther forward, Colonel Mays told them, was already too cluttered with personnel and equipment. Moving his guns into position, the Company B commander, Capt. John B. Cook, made arrangements for a T-2 retriever to recover the destroyers that had bogged down, and all the company's guns were returned during the night. Two towed guns of Company B, 630th Tank Destroyer Battalion, were set up during the night near the Vossenack church and six towed guns were put into position along the Richelskaul-Germeter road.
About 2315 Captain Pugh, Company C, 893d, was ordered to prepare his company for movement to Kommerscheidt. Company B, 893d, would take over the antitank support of Vossenack. Lieutenant Fuller and Capt. Sidney C. Cole, commander of the Reconnaissance Company, 893d, made another reconnaissance of the Kall trail and returned about 0200 with news that the route was still clogged with disabled tanks but would probably be open by daylight. Company C's 1st and 3d Platoons went into an assembly area near the entrance of the Kall trail into the wooded valley, ready to move to
Kommerscheidt upon the opening of the trail. The 2d Platoon under 1st Lt. Curtis M. Edmund started moving to the western edge of Vossenack about 0530 in order to be ready to follow the other platoons across the Kall River. En route one of Lieutenant Edmund's destroyers struck a mine near Richelskaul and had to be abandoned. The platoon, now with only two guns left, did not arrive in Vossenack until 0730.
Company B, 893d, designated to replace Company C in Vossenack, moved up about 0430, picking up guides from the rifle companies of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, which its platoons were to support. The 2d Platoon went into position just north of the houses across the street from the Vossenack church. The 3d deployed north of the road and west of the 2d. The 1st Platoon, under 1st Lt. Howard C. Davis, moved toward the northeast of Vossenack. Its infantry guide stood in the turret of Davis' destroyer. As the platoon moved, heavy enemy artillery fire fell in the area. One shell exploded against the counterbalance of Davis' vehicle and blew away half the infantry guide's head.34
Weather was again the controlling factor on 4 November in air support of the Schmidt operation. The first air attack of the day hit Schmidt at 1235 after the 3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, had been driven out. Schmidt and its environs, including Harscheidt, were bombed and strafed by two other squadrons during the day, and air claimed one armored vehicle destroyed and two tanks damaged. Two other squadrons were to fly missions against Schmidt; one had to cancel its mission because of weather and the other squadron was vectored to different targets. The latter squadron eventually had to jettison its bombs when the weather closed in. A mission against Nideggen claimed one motor vehicle and four armored vehicles destroyed. In the difficult weather, these might have been termed satisfactory results; but the large-scale intervention of enemy armor was proof enough that air support was not accomplishing the vital mission of isolating the Schmidt battlefield.35
109th and 110th Infantry Summaries
Early on 4 November the Germans launched what some men called a counterattack, but it was probably an attempt at infiltration against the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry, in the woods southwest of Huertgen. (Map 26) The Germans were beaten off but not before they had infiltrated the battalion's rear and surrounded the battalion observation post, capturing or killing about fifteen men, including most of the battalion staff and the artillery liaison party. Two companies of the 2d Battalion later attacked almost due east in another attempt to take the remaining part of the original regimental objective east of the Huertgen-Germeter road. They were stopped by mines and small arms fire along the road. A special task force from the 109th Antitank Company, the 630th Tank
Intervention of German Reserves
4 November 1944
Destroyer Battalion, and the 103d Engineers failed in an effort to capture a German road block to the regiment's left at a junction of two roads in the draw of the Weisser Weh Creek.36
In the woods to the south the 110th Infantry held with two battalions and attacked with the other (the 1st) from Vossenack south to Simonskall in an effort to turn the stiff opposition at Raffelsbrand by threatening the enemy rear. The attack was launched before dawn and before the 112th Infantry was hit so disastrously at Schmidt. The battalion took Simonskall by 0900 against negligible resistance. About noon one company was committed to clean out the east-west portion of the Richelskaul-Simonskall road, and the 2d and 3d Battalions sent out patrols supported by artillery fire. These units found the enemy still facing them in force and showing no inclination to withdraw despite the 1st Battalion's movement toward his rear. Although the 1st Battalion's new position sealed off one end of the north-south river road, there was nothing to indicate that the move had been designed to protect the Kall gorge from the south. That it served to prevent enemy movement along this road from the south is apparent, but the enemy still had access to the Kall trail area from the south through hundreds of yards of unprotected woods.37
The Enemy Situation
With the execution of two early morning counterattacks against the 28th Division's
penetrations, German reserves had made their first prominent entry into the Schmidt action. At dawn German troops attempted to infiltrate the 109th Infantry's salient north of Germeter but were repulsed. But also at dawn the 1055th Regiment (89th Division), assisted by an armored group of the 16th Panzer Regiment (116th Panzer Division), launched its counterattack against the Americans in Schmidt.38 The 1st and 3d Battalions, 1055th Regiment, supported by tanks and assault guns, attacked from Harscheidt against Company L, 112th Infantry, and the 2d Platoon, Company I. According to American accounts, this attack spilled over to the Hasenfeld road against elements of Company L and Company K. The 2d Battalion, 1055th Regiment, which had not completed its move from the southwest when the Americans took Schmidt, attacked from the west against elements of Company K and the 3d Platoon, Company I. The first German troops actually to re-enter Schmidt were one platoon and a communications section, plus tanks and assault gun support, of the 3d Battalion, 1055th Regiment. The 1055th Regiment, still assisted by armored elements of the 16th Panzer Regiment, continued its attack that afternoon against Kommerscheidt. A battalion of the 347th Infantry Division, adjoining the 89th Division to the south, had been moved into a defensive position astride the Hasenfeld-Schmidt road, but there is no indication that this battalion participated in the attacks.
The afternoon assault against Kommerscheidt penetrated only the southern edges of the village, which the Americans had not occupied. Meanwhile, news had been received that Simonskall had fallen, and the German command ordered commitment of another unit, the 1056th Regiment (89th Division), although there is no indication that this unit actually entered the action until the next day.39 The availability of this regiment was a result of the continuing arrival of units of the 272d Volks Grenadier Division to relieve the 89th Division. At some time during the day the 156th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (third regiment of the 116th Panzer Division) moved into the woods north of Vossenack and thus faced the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry.
Also on 4 November, Army Group B and Seventh Army sent several artillery, assault gun, antitank, and mortar battalions into the sector, and LXXIV Corps committed the artillery and antitank guns of those of its divisions not affected by the 28th Division's attack (possibly the 347th Infantry Division, the 272d Volks Grenadier Division, and the 12th Volks Grenadier Division). These were in addition to the organic artillery and antitank weapons of the three committed German divisions, the 116th Panzer, the 89th, and the 275th, plus the assault guns of the 116th Panzer Division. These additions in supporting troops probably accounted for the marked increase in German artillery fire noted on this date.
The over-all German plan, designed to restore the status quo which had existed on the opening day of the American offensive, had now begun to take shape. Initially that plan had directed only a counterattack from the Huertgen area to cut off the American penetration in Vossenack, but when the move to Schmidt had revealed the strategic aim of the offensive the plan had been broadened. Seventh Army had ordered that the wings of the salient be held firmly against further widening, that the 89th Division (assisted by the 16th Panzer Regiment) retake Schmidt and Kommerscheidt,40 and that the 116th Panzer Division launch a concentric attack to retake Vossenack. With Schmidt recaptured, the Germans planned the next day (5 November) to renew the attack against Kommerscheidt, to continue the build-up of the 156th Panzer Grenadier Regiment against Vossenack on the north, and to send the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 116th Panzer Division down the Kall gorge from the northeast. The latter move was designed to accomplish two things: to put troops into position to assist a later attack against Vossenack and to cut off the Americans in Kommerscheidt by linking up in the Kall gorge with elements of the 1056th Regiment (89th Division), which had been ordered to close a gap in German lines created by the capture of Simonskall. The Germans did not realize that their attempt at a link-up in the Kall gorge would meet little resistance--the 28th Division had taken virtually no defensive measures against the obvious possibility of such a maneuver.41
Summary for 4 November and Night of 4-5 November
This day of 4 November had been established as a dark moment in the 28th Division's battle for Schmidt, at least in the sector of the main effort being made by the 112th Infantry. One planned phase of the operation, isolation of the battlefield by air support, could already be considered--no matter how explainable by implausibility of the original mission or by weather difficulties--a distinct failure. Still, all was far from lost, and though the man in the foxhole in Vossenack or Kommerscheidt or working the difficult supply route might wonder if success were possible, preparations were being made to retake the territory lost during the day.
The enemy had dealt the 3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, a swift counterblow in Schmidt that morning; still, Companies A and D and three tanks and the remnants of the 3d Battalion had managed to hold in Kommerscheidt, although the picture had looked dark when the Germans struck there about 1400. But the Germans had reeled back from Kommerscheidt, having lost at least five tanks and an unestimated number of men.
Still virtually intact was Company C, 112th Infantry, in the edge of the woods north of Kommerscheidt, and supporting
it was the 1st Platoon, Company C, 20th Engineers, farther down the trail toward the river. But neither unit was in a position to defend the vital Kall bridge, and Company A, 20th Engineers, ostensibly given such a mission, was in a defense in the edge of the woods southeast of Vossenack with only a four-man security guard actually in a position to cover the bridge.
The Kall trail was now presumed to be passable again after another day and night of work, and one five-weasel supply train from the 707th Tank Battalion had passed and returned. Poised to move across the river along this route were the remainder of Company A, 707th Tank Battalion (only five tanks, plus the three already in Kommerscheidt), and Company C, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, with ten M-10 tank destroyers.
Although persistent enemy shelling had demoralized the defenders of Vossenack, the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, was still in position there. Assisting it were a platoon of tanks from Company C, 707th Tank Battalion (the other tanks of Company C had moved to ready positions near Germeter), and Company B, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, with twelve newly arrived tank destroyers. Company B, 112th Infantry, except for the losses in its initial attack on 2 November was still intact in its Richelskaul defense to the rear.
Medical evacuation from Kommerscheidt and Vossenack was evidently proceeding successfully, although with difficulty from the hazards of the Kall trail and shelling along the Vossenack ridge. Communication by telephone42 had been consistently poor because of heavy enemy shelling, but radios were generally giving satisfactory service, although the engineers in the Kall gorge had found reception poor in the low areas. Nevertheless, all requests for artillery fire were apparently getting through. Weather was still hampering all operations, particularly air support, and, if it had not already been deduced that air could not isolate the battlefield, continued enemy commitments would certainly prove it.
The 109th Infantry had met with little success in completing its mission in the woods to the north but had held against another determined German counterattack. To the south the 110th Infantry had met its first success in this battle with the capture of Simonskall, but the attack had used the division's only infantry reserve.
Artillery of the 229th Field Artillery Battalion in direct support of the 112th Infantry fired missions throughout the night against possible enemy assembly areas in the Kommerscheidt-Schmidt area. The commanders hoped to discourage expected continuation of enemy countermeasures against Kommerscheidt.
1. Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne and Ripple.
2. No overlays or maps showing the disposition of the 3d Bn, 112th Inf, can be found. Positions and movement as shown on Map IX are approximate as determined from unit journals and combat interviews.
3. Combat Interv 75 with Toner; 28th Div Arty Jnl, 4 Nov 44; V Corps Study, Signal Sec. The V Corps Study quotes the division artillery communications officer as saying that no request for fire failed to be transmitted during the entire Schmidt operation. This artillery forward observer with Company I was killed, and reason for failure of artillery in this instance cannot be determined.
4. 28th Div Arty Jnl, 4 Nov 44. Battery C, 229th, displaced forward on 3 November, and no breakdown on its firing for 4 November is available. During the entire period between 0600 of 4 November and 0600 of 5 November Battery C did fire a total of 189 rounds; therefore some of these rounds would have come during the period mentioned here.
5. This estimate of enemy force is based primarily on American estimates in combat interviews in OCMH, but agrees basically with German material except that the Germans made no mention of an attack from the direction of Hasenfeld. These troops may have come originally from Harscheidt and in the course of the attack moved over to the Hasenfeld road.
6. The Schmidt counterattack has been reconstructed primarily from combat interviews, which are admittedly sketchy because of the confused situation and number of casualties among key personnel, both at the time and later, before they could be interviewed. Delay in information reaching the rear or failure to record it leaves the unit journals of little assistance. See Combat Interv 75 with Dana, Piercey, Toner, Ripperdam, Walker, Tyo; Intervs with Barnett, with Peterson, and with Black; 112th Inf S-2 and S-3 Jnls, 4 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44, 28th Div Arty Jnl, 4 Nov 44; V Corps Study, G-3, G-4, Signal and TD Secs. The air strike against Schmidt was set by the 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44, at 1236, and by FUSA and IX TAC Sum, 4 Nov 44, at 1230.
7. Muglia Rpt; DeMarco-Linguiti Rpt.
8. Combat Interv 75 with George.
9. Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
10. Combat Interv 75 with Lutz, Doherty; Sonnefield Rpt; Sonnefield Statement. There was evidently confusion as to who was responsible for defending the two flanks of the vital Kall trail. While infantry commanders seemed to think this a job assigned the engineers, the engineers interpreted the direction of providing their own security to mean close-in security as their men worked. Colonel Peterson provides a possible explanation for the confusion in pointing out that originally the 112th Infantry was to have placed a number of defensive outposts to block both ends of the Kall gorge, but division had approved cancellation of this plan before the attack started to permit the 112th its full strength for the Schmidt attack. The resulting increased need for greater engineer security measures was evidently not understood by the engineers. See Interv with Peterson. Par. Ib(3) from the Engineer Plan, 30 October 1944, makes the engineer position clear: "Due to disposition of friendly troops it is possible for enemy patrols to infiltrate through our lines . . . especially . . . during the hours of darkness. Local security will be required." (Italics supplied.)
11. Combat Interv 75 with Kauffman. Although several enemy patrols hit the 2d Battalion during its stay in Vossenack, records are hopelessly confused on the times and number of such patrols. For this reason, no further mention is made in this narrative of such patrols except for one against Sergeant Cascarano's Company F squad.
12. Combat Interv 75 with Kauffman, Johnson, Crain, Pruden, Nesbitt, Condon; 2d Info and Hist Sv Hist Off, personal observations on arty fire.
13. No overlays or maps exist showing the Kommerscheidt defenses. Positions and movement as shown on Map X are approximate as determined from unit journals and combat interviews.
14. Combat Interv 75 with Kodiak, Holden, Quinton-Hausman-Lockwood-Kertes-Norton, Perll, Piercey, Kelly-Hunter, Ripperdam, Tyo, Dana; Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
15. Combat Interv 75 with Dana, Simon; Interv with Peterson.
16. If later claims of enemy tanks destroyed are correct, there were probably more than five which entered this battle.
17. Status report on tanks and armored vehicles of 116th Panzer Division, 9 Nov 44, found in file General Inspekteur der Panzertruppen, Zustandsberichte (Inspectorate General of Panzer Troops, Status Reports). This is a collection of detailed status and combat efficiency reports on the Army panzer divisions for November and December 44. Although IPW reports, found in 28th Division G-2 File, November 44, and in V Corps G-2 File, November 44, as well as almost all combat interviews on the Schmidt operation mention "Mark VI" tanks, this source reveals that at this period the only combat tanks in the 116th Panzer Division were Mark IV's and V's. V Corps G-2 files indicate that a few Mark VI tanks had been absorbed by the 116th from Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland, but most evidence seems to indicate that only Mark IV's and V's were employed in this operation.
18. Combat Interv 75 with Ripperdam, Dana, Piercey, Kudiak, Tyo; Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
19. V Corps Study, Arty Sec. See also, 28th Div Arty Jnl, 4 Nov 44. See above, n. 4 concerning Btry C.
20. Combat Interv 76 with Ripple, Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
21. Combat Interv 75 with Kudiak, Piercey.
22. Combat Interv 75 with Tyo, Perll, Toner; Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne; Interv with Peterson; FUSA and IX TAC Sum, 4 Nov 44.
23. Ltr, Gen Davis to Hist Div, 11 Dec 49.
24. Combat Interv 76 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne; Combat Interv 75 with 1st and 3d Bn, 112th, personnel; V Corps Study, G-3 Sec; 28th Div G-3 File, 4 Nov 44.
25. Combat Interv 75 with Lutz, Doherty; Sonnefield Statement. Reason for not blowing rock outcropping is given by Lutz.
26. Combat Interv 75 with Lutz.
27. Combat Interv 75 with Doherty.
28. Combat Interv 75 with Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
29. Combat Interv 76 with Ripple, Hostrup-Fleig-Payne, Pynchon, and Rogers.
30. Combat Interv 76 with Pynchon, Hostrup-Fleig-Payne.
31. Combat Interv 75 with Lutz; 112th Inf S-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44.
32. Combat Interv 75 with White and Sgt William O'Neal, 3d Plat, Co C, 20th Engrs; Sonnefield Statement.
33. 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44; 112th Inf S-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44; Combat Interv 75 with Daley; Sonnefield Statement.
34. Tank destroyer story is from the following: Combat Interv 76 with Fuller, Cole, Pugh, Davis, Sgt Hammet E. Murphy, and S Sgt William B. Gardner. All from Co B, 893d. See also V Corps Study, TD Sec; 112th Inf S-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44.
35. FUSA and IX TAC Sum, 4 Nov 44; V Corps Study, G-3 Air Sec; Combat Interv 74 with Howison.
36. Combat Interv 77 with 109th personnel; 109th Inf S-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44; 109th Inf AAR, Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44.
37. Combat Interv 77 with 110th personnel; 110th Inf S-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 4 Nov 44.
38. 89th Division Order of the Day states that the 2d Battalion, 60th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, participated in this attack, but the only 28th Division prisoner identification of this unit on 4 November was on the 109th Infantry front north of Germeter. 28th Div G-2 File, 4-5 Nov 44. See also V Corps G-2 File, and MS # A-905 (Waldenburg).
39. At this time the 89th Division had only two infantry regiments, the 1055th and 1056th, both badly mauled in the battles in France and reconstituted from conglomerate units, plus assorted engineer, antitank, reconnaissance, artillery, signal, antiaircraft, and Landesschuetzen (local security) units. See MS # P-032a by Generalmajor Walter Bruns, formerly CG of 89th Infantry Division.
40. MS # A-905 (Waldenburg) shows only an "armored group" comprising twenty to thirty tanks of the 16th Panzer Regiment at Schmidt and Kommerscheidt, but this "group" was commanded by the regimental commander and was a sizable part of the regiment. While other elements of this regiment apparently operated north of the American penetration, reference to the armored group at Kommerscheidt is hereafter made as 16th Panzer Regiment. See also MS # A-891 (Gersdorff).
41. MSS # A-891 and A-892 (Gersdorff); MS # A-905 (Waldenburg); MS # C-016 (Straube); ETHINT 56 (Gersdorff and Waldenburg); Sit Rpts, 2-4 Nov 44, found in OB WEST KTB Anlagen 1.-10.XI.44.; 28th Div G-2 Jnl and File, Nov 44; 89th Division Order of the Day; MS # P-032a (Bruns).
42. On 3 November the 3d Battalion, 112th Infantry, had laid telephone wire by hand as it advanced to Schmidt, and the 1st Battalion, 112th, laid wire to Kommerscheidt. On 4 November both circuits apparently broke down, and despite efforts to replace them enemy shelling and patrol action kept the wire out for the rest of the operation. Circuits between Germeter and Vossenack were repaired at least twenty times, but there were still long periods with no telephone communication to Vossenack. See V Corps Study, Com Sec.