Action Again at Kommerscheidt
As daylight approached on 7 November a cold winter rain added to the miseries of combat, and the Germans began to bombard Kommerscheidt with what the hard-pressed men of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 112th Infantry, felt was the enemy's heaviest artillery barrage since their arrival in the battered town. Americans estimated that the Germans employed four or five artillery battalions, and one officer checked the rate of fire. In a one-and-one-half-minute period he counted about fifty explosions. The fire lasted approximately thirty minutes.
About eighteen enemy tanks then approached, many of them so close behind their artillery fire that some men were not aware of their presence until they opened fire. Enemy infantry variously estimated at from one to two battalions accompanied them, and other tanks or self-propelled guns supported the assault from advantageous positions at Schmidt.1
On the left flank in the Company A positions one enemy tank moved up close, fired straight at the company command post, and put direct fire into the foxholes of both the 1st and 2d Platoons. Among those wounded was the company commander, Capt. Seth R. Frear. On the right (west) flank as a tank moved in close against men of Company B, an assistant squad leader, Sgt. John Ostrowski, killed three of the accompanying infantry with his M-1 rifle and then hit the tank with a rocket from a bazooka. Black smoke billowed up, and the tank backed away to disappear in the noise and confusion of the battle. The four remaining machine guns and two of the 81-mm. mortars of Company M were knocked out by the enemy tank fire. The tank that fired on the mortars was in turn knocked out by the Company M commander, Captain Hackard, with a bazooka rocket.
Lieutenant Payne, platoon leader in Company A, 707th Tank Battalion, spotted one of the German tanks moving around the right flank of the town. Although shell fragments the previous day had damaged the elevating mechanism of Lieutenant Payne's gun so that he was unable to depress it sufficiently to hit the hull of the enemy tank, his tank was still mobile and scored two hits on the German's turret. Still the enemy tank kept coming. Only when two American tank destroyers came to Lieutenant Payne's aid, each getting two rounds home, was the German tank stopped.
In the center of town Lieutenant Edmund's tank destroyer knocked out a Mark V at a range of only thirty yards, and another unidentified destroyer knocked out three enemy tanks. Crewmen
estimated they killed or wounded with their machine guns about forty of the accompanying enemy infantry. But Lieutenant Edmund's tank destroyer and two others were knocked out shortly thereafter by the enemy tanks.
Outside the combined 1st-3d Battalion CP in the dugout in the orchard just north of Kommerscheidt, the 1st Battalion Headquarters Company commander, Capt. Ross Martin, was seriously wounded. As Colonel Peterson and Major Dana, regimental S-3, dragged him into the CP hole, Colonel Ripple, Task Force R commander, called from outside, saying a German tank was approaching the dugout. Leaving a medic with Martin, Peterson, Ripple, and Dana walked back toward the northern woods-line positions, consciously not running because they wanted to avoid starting a general withdrawal. Shortly after they had left, the German tank approached and fired almost point-blank into the CP dugout.
Major Hazlett, the 1st Battalion commander, moved among both the 1st and 3d Battalion positions encouraging the troops to hold. By about 0830, however, German tank and infantry infiltration had so unnerved many of the men that they were leaving their holes to run toward the rear and the situation was fast becoming critical. Back at the woods line to the north, a jeep messenger sent by Colonel Peterson relayed instructions to Captain Rumbaugh, 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry, that he organize his harried battalion and move it forward to assist the Kommerscheidt defense.2 Before the battalion could be assembled, Peterson himself appeared--he had withdrawn from the orchard dugout only a few steps ahead of the approaching German tank. The colonel now changed his orders to Rumbaugh, having decided instead to commit the remainder of Company C, 112th (one platoon was already in Kommerscheidt).
Before Company C could be committed, Colonel Peterson received a written message transcribed by the division radio operator, who had come up the day before with Task Force R, that he was to report immediately to the division command post. He did not question the message for two reasons: (1) feeling that the true situation in Kommerscheidt had been misrepresented to division, he welcomed the opportunity to clear it up; (2) he had heard a rumor that he was to be relieved of his command and that a colonel recently assigned to the division was to replace him. Designating Colonel Ripple to take over the Kommerscheidt defense, Colonel Peterson left with a jeep driver and one other enlisted man for the division CP.3
After the infantry commander's departure, Colonel Ripple ordered Company C, 112th Infantry, to move into Kommerscheidt, but the Company C commander and his men seemed too dazed to be capable of carrying out that order. Ripple himself attempted to lead them forward, but they would not move. He told them to hold where they were.
More and more men in Kommerscheidt were leaving their foxholes and running toward the rear. Some of the retreating men cried out to Lieutenant Payne that German tanks were overrunning the left flank; so Lieutenant Payne's tank and another under Sgt. Andrew J. Lipe moved in that direction. Spotting an enemy tank among the houses in the eastern edge of town, Sergeant Lipe opened fire, hitting the German tank with his first round of armor-piercing ammunition. With enemy fire coming dangerously close to Payne's tank, the lieutenant radioed Sergeant Lipe to withdraw and himself pulled back into the shallow open draw northwest of Kommerscheidt. Apparently Sergeant Lipe did not hear. Another German tank advanced through the center of town, fired, and knocked out both Sergeant Lipe's tank and another under Sgt. Marvin S. Olson. Sergeant Lipe dismounted and took over a tank destroyer whose crew leader had been killed or wounded. He remained with the destroyer until it too was knocked out.
Minus two tanks and three tank destroyers lost in the enemy attack, the remaining American armor began to withdraw toward the northern woods line. In withdrawing two more tanks threw their tracks. One of these was Lieutenant Payne's, which had bellied on a sharp ridge in the ground. Now there remained only two tank destroyers and one tank.
With the departure of the scant armored support, the infantry situation deteriorated even more. Major Christensen, the 3d Battalion commander, ordered the few remaining men on the right flank to withdraw, and Captain Piercey left with about fifty men. An enemy tank and two machine guns fired at them as they retreated, and at least one of the group was hit by the machine gun fire. A shell from the tank blew another man almost straight up into the air. The open field over which the men withdrew was soft from the rain, and it seemed to the retreating soldiers that it took a lifetime to get across.
On the left flank, about seventy-five men from Company A pulled back, but only about fifteen withdrew safely to the Company C, 112th, positions. Three men, Pfcs. Nathanuel M. Quinton, Company A, and Clarence J. Skain and Lewis Gardner, Company B, were pinned down by the enemy fire and could not get out when the others did. Later they turned back several local assaults by enemy infantry before Gardner was killed by a shot from a near-by building. Quinton threw a grenade into the building and silenced the German marksman. He and Skain then made a run for it, crawling toward the woods on the east and eventually making their way back to the northern woods-line positions. They escaped from Kommerscheidt sometime after midday, apparently among the last Americans to leave the town.
Evidently most of the remaining men who had held and had not heard Major Christensen's orders to withdraw either saw or heard of the enemy tank at the
CP dugout in the orchard. There a group of American soldiers stood around the tank with their hands raised in surrender, a white flag clearly visible. This seemed to convince any who still held in the buildings or foxholes that all was lost, and the final withdrawal was on.
As one such group under Captain Walker, Company L, withdrew, a soldier told Captain Walker that "a tall major" wanted to see him. The major proved to be Major Christensen, who told Captain Walker to try to build up another line in the open field north of Kommerscheidt. But the badly shaken men hesitated for only a few minutes before continuing on toward the rear, and any hope for another line in the open field was lost. Captain Walker saw Major Christensen turn and walk slowly back into German-held Kommerscheidt.
Not all the men fell back on the northern woods-line positions. Many retreated into the woods to the west where they either met more German fire or continued across the Kall. Lieutenant Tyo of Company K was with one group of about twenty-one men, nine of whom were wounded. A heavy enemy artillery concentration wounded five more men in Tyo's group as it approached the Kall bridge. Two were so badly hurt that the others were forced to abandon them. Tyo was later told by medics that these men were recovered. The others forded the river. One man went across with half of a foot gone; all that was left to wrap the stump in was a dirty handkerchief. Across the river the wounded were left at the log cabin aid station, and Lieutenant Tyo and the six remaining men dug in with a group from the 20th Engineers.
Frantic reorganization was now taking place among the infantry positions of the 3d Battalion, 110th, and Company C, 112th, at the woods line north of Kommerscheidt. Between 150 and 200 survivors of the action in the town had reached them and were hastily formed into a provisional company and placed in a hasty defense. One tank, two tank destroyers, and two 57-mm. antitank guns supplied their support. Although there were no illusions about the status of Kommerscheidt (Colonel Ripple had sent division a message at 1125 that the town was considered lost), the woods-line defenders were still reluctant to call down their own artillery on the town. They knew that many of their wounded had been left there and that other Americans had been captured and still might be in Kommerscheidt.
Throughout the morning's fight in Kommerscheidt American artillery support had been on the job and it continued now to fire on approaches to the town and on Schmidt. Its communications appear to have been constant throughout, for response to calls for fire had been prompt and accurate. Nevertheless, the shelling had failed to stop the enemy tanks. With some missions directed in the Vossenack vicinity, the 229th Field Artillery Battalion during the day fired 205 neutralizations, three TOT's, and fifty-two harassing missions.4
Although enemy artillery and mortar fire continued through the afternoon, the
Germans did not press their advantage on the ground against the woods-line defenders until about 1830 when they fired flares that revealed four or five tanks followed by infantry approaching across the open field from Kommerscheidt. The enemy poured marching fire into the woods-line positions, but the defenders called for supporting artillery, and the lead German tank was knocked out within a hundred yards of the woods line. The other tanks milled about to escape the artillery fire and eventually withdrew. A prisoner captured later said that the assault had been made by a fresh infantry battalion but that the tanks, while maneuvering to escape the American artillery fire, had backed over and killed some of their infantry, disorganizing the attack. The regimental S-3, Major Dana, attributed the failure of the enemy attack to this lack of co-ordination as well as to the fact that through the afternoon supporting artillery and aircraft had pounded a rectangular patch of woods west of Kommerscheidt which the Germans seemed to be using as an assembly area.
As the night wore on the Americans still held, though the German shelling continued and there were more casualties that could not be evacuated because of the situation in the Kall gorge to the rear. Some of the wounded died from lack of medical attention, and many men felt they all would be either killed or captured. Pfc. Joseph R. Perll, Company C, 112th, using a rock, hammered out the "H" which indicated his religion on his identification tags.
Thus, on the night of 7 November the remnants of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 112th Infantry; the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry; one platoon of Company C, 20th Engineers; and one tank, two tank destroyers, and two 57-mm. antitank guns held the woods line north of Kommerscheidt. During the day they had been driven from their town defenses at a cost of many wounded, captured, and killed, including the entire staffs of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 112th Infantry.5
A New Commander for the 112th
Even as Kommerscheidt was being lost, Colonel Gustin M. Nelson, formerly trains commander in the 5th Armored Division but desiring a more active combat assignment, was reporting to the 28th Division CP. There he was assigned as commander of the 112th Infantry and told to make his way forward to his command in Kommerscheidt. Colonel Nelson subsequently tried at least four different times during the afternoon and early evening to reach his new command. Each time he was stopped, once because of a guide's failure to find the unit he was to accompany, and three times because of enemy shelling.
Colonel Peterson, whom Colonel Nelson was to relieve, had not yet reported to either the 112th rear CP or the division CP. There was evidently no apprehension, however, since no one at either CP seemed to know that he was supposed to leave Kommerscheidt, although he had left there between 0900 and 1000 that morning.6
Along the Kall Trail
At dawn on 7 November as the battle for Kommerscheidt had begun anew, remnants of Company C, 1340th Engineers, still held a defensive position around the Kall bridge. The German shelling and attack during the night had taken a heavy toll of the company. Near the western entrance of the main supply route into the Kall woods were Company B, 1340th, and some thirty men of Company A, 20th Engineers.
At approximately 1000 the men at the bridge saw about twenty or thirty Americans, evidently from the Kommerscheidt battle, cross the bridge in single file and head toward Vossenack. A lieutenant accompanied them. The men moved hurriedly, although there were no shots being fired at them and no shelling, and the engineers at the bridge did not know quite what to think. Shortly thereafter the engineers heard shouts from their own 3d Platoon, which with one squad from the 1st Platoon was defending across the river. These men soon came racing back across the bridge, a machine gun from the vicinity of the mill firing at them as they ran. The sight of these men running and the sound of the firing reacted on others among the engineers, and almost all the few remaining men headed for the rear. Among them was S. Sgt. Benjamin A. P. Cipra, Jr., 1st Platoon, who stopped about noon at the Company B, 1340th, positions at the western edge of the woods. Cipra reported to the Company B commander, Capt. Thomas F. Creegan, that all of Company C had retreated from the bridge.
But at the bridge six men, including the company commander, Captain Lind, and a platoon leader, had remained. They hid behind a slight embankment and observed small groups of Germans working down from the direction of the mill and clustering around a knocked-out American jeep.7
Company A, 1340th Engineers
When the other engineers of the 1171st Engineer Combat Group had been committed the day before as riflemen, Company A, 1340th Engineers, had been garrisoning pillboxes and doing road repair work behind the 110th Infantry to the south. The company commander, Capt. Frank P. Bane, reported to Colonel Setliffe, 1340th commander, early on 7 November and was told to move his men to a reserve position in the wooded draw just south of Vossenack. On its arrival, the company was hit by enemy artillery fire and sustained approximately twenty casualties, including one man killed.
Between 1300 and 1400 Colonel Setliffe learned that the Kall bridge had been deserted. He immediately ordered Captain Bane's company to move to the bridge and "stay there." Preceding the main body of the company, the battalion S-3 took charge of the company's 1st Platoon and moved down the firebreak toward the river. Halfway down the hill the unit encountered six Germans digging in a machine gun. The 1st Platoon overcame the Germans and then dug in along the firebreak as a flank guard for the main supply route. From the woods near by the S-3 heard a voice call out,
"I have a message for (or from) General Cota." Thinking the call came from a wounded German or that it was a German trick, the S-3 did not investigate.
Captain Bane and the remainder of Company A, 1340th, moved on down the Kall trail, passing through the positions of Company A, 20th, and Company B, 1340th. They were joined by a platoon of Company B under 1st Lt. Kelsey C. Manin, six or seven men of Company C, 1340th, under Lieutenant Makousky, and a provisional platoon from the remnants of Company B, 20th, under Lieutenant Horn, which had been defending the southern draw leading up toward Vossenack. The column met no opposition and finally reached the bridge area where Captain Bane made contact with Captain Lind. The two officers decided that they did not have enough men to occupy both sides of the river. Captain Bane's two platoons of Company A, 1340th, dug in on a small knoll just to the north (left) of the Kall trail near the junction with the north-south river road, and the remainder of the engineers were echeloned up the hill toward the northwest, adding depth to an all-around defense. Although patrol contact was maintained with Company B, 1340th, at the western edge of the woods, no contact was made with the infantry at the Kommerscheidt woods line across the river.
As the engineers began to dig in about 1500, they could see Germans digging in on the other side of the river and fired sporadically to harass them. After dark there was occasional German shelling but no attack. The remaining elements of Company A, 20th, and Company B, 1340th, at the western edge of the woods southeast of Vossenack also experienced nothing more unusual than occasional enemy shelling.8
Colonel Peterson's Return Trip
With Colonel Peterson when he left the northern Kommerscheidt woods line in midmorning to report to the division CP were two enlisted men, Pfc. Gus Seiler, 1st Battalion Headquarters Company, and a second soldier whose name the regimental commander did not know. At the second elbow bend in the Kall trail, heavy enemy small arms fire forced the trio to abandon their jeep and cut cross country through the woods. Coming again upon the winding trail near the river, they saw several abandoned weasels and the bodies of two Americans who had fallen on the trail and been run over by a vehicle. They pulled these bodies off the trail and removed several others from the abandoned weasels. As soon as they had finished this task, Germans somewhere along the river opened up with small arms fire.
Colonel Peterson and the two enlisted men plunged into the woods. They headed south, hoping to ford the river farther upstream. Avoiding occasional groups of Germans, they were finally able to cross the stream, only to come again under small arms fire on the west bank. When they headed once more into the woods to the southwest, they narrowly avoided being hit by enemy mortar fire. Shortly thereafter they engaged in a brief small arms fight and killed two Germans, only to have another mortar concentration come in. A shell fragment hit Peterson
in the left leg. At the time, the colonel thought only that he had irritated a piece of metal still in his leg from World War I. The second enlisted man asked permission to go ahead of the others in order to obtain help. Colonel Peterson refused, but the soldier went ahead as a point and kept on, outdistancing the others.
Partly because Peterson's left leg was giving him trouble and partly because they believed the woods were full of Germans, the colonel and Private Seiler dropped to their knees and began creeping. Fire from a German machine pistol to the left front tore through Seiler's body. Since Peterson had been on the right, the soldier's body served to shield him from the fire. Edging closer, he put an ear to Seiler's chest--the man was dead.
Another hail of mortar fire fell in the area. This time Peterson felt a burning pain in his right leg; when he tried to move, he found the limb useless. Dragging himself laboriously, unable to use one leg at all and the other only partially, he retraced his route across the river, not knowing exactly what he planned to do after crossing, but hoping vaguely to find another route to the rear and avoid the Germans who seemed everywhere in this section of the woods.
As he pulled himself from the water on the east bank, three Germans passed near by. The third man in line spotted him. Although Peterson was so dazed that he could not remember actually shooting, he knew that he must have fired his submachine gun, for the three Germans fled.
Again the officer dragged himself across the river to the west bank. Still edging forward slowly because of his paralyzed right leg, he crossed an open space and entered the woods. American voices and the sound of someone using a pick in the earth reached his ears, and more shells fell. He prayed and had the impression he must have fainted. When he revived he heard Americans talking again and called out for assistance. The picking stopped; again shells fell in the area. Discouraged and hardly aware of any reason for his actions, he again dragged himself to the river, crossed, and then recrossed. When he reached the west bank again a little farther to the north, he saw two Germans walk down the river road and sit down. Later two Americans came along the road and took the Germans prisoner. Colonel Peterson called to them, and the two Americans dropped into firing positions. Hearing nothing further, they walked away with the prisoners.
The officer had no energy to drag himself farther. Sure now that it was only a matter of time before he would die, he began to call out in a desperate effort to make himself heard: "General Cota . . . Colonel Peterson." Two Americans, apparently the same pair that had taken the Germans prisoner, came out of the woods again. This time they spotted him and took him into their position. After an engineer corporal had administered morphine and plasma, they carried him on a stretcher to the rear.9
Attack To Retake Vossenack
At approximately 0530 on 7 November Colonel Isley, commander of the 146th
Engineers, whose two companies now held the western half of Vossenack, held a meeting with his company commanders, Captain Ball of Company A and Lieutenant Schindler of Company C. Although the tank commander on the scene, Lieutenant Quarrie, did not attend the meeting because his platoon expected to be relieved at daylight, the engineers had promise of tank support for an attack to retake the eastern end of the town. The relieving tank platoon leader, 2d Lt. Clarence A. Johnson, 2d Platoon, Company B, 707th Tank Battalion, and his company commander, Captain Granger, arrived about 0645. Orders were then hastily issued and the attack was scheduled for 0800.
The engineer plan called for preparatory artillery and mortar fire (including that of the 86th Chemical Battalion) for approximately thirty minutes before the attack. Company A was then to recapture the church. (See Map XI.) Company C's 2d Platoon was next to take all buildings on the left (north) of the main street, while the company's 3d Platoon was to follow through the first building and attack across the street to take the first building east of the church on the south side of the street. Next objective of the 3d Platoon included all buildings on the south side. Company C's 1st Platoon was to follow in a support role. Company A, after taking the church and providing supporting fire to help Company C take its first buildings, was to move behind Company C and garrison the recaptured buildings. The platoon of tanks was to move along the south side of town, firing two rounds from its 75-mm. guns into each building just before the engineers assaulted. The platoon leader of Company C's 1st Platoon, Lieutenant Rollins, was to coordinate with the tank platoon leader, Lieutenant Johnson, by means of a series of simple hand signals: if he wanted more tank fire, he was to point to the building; if he did not, he was to point down the main street.
According to Company A's plan to take the church, one squad of its 1st Platoon in the initial move would furnish a base of fire from the second floor of the first building west of the crossroads. Under cover of this fire, the other two squads were to cross the north-south street. The remaining two platoons were to wait under cover until called up to garrison the buildings behind Company C.
No radio or wire communications were available for the attack--the 146th Engineers had been so hastily committed the day before that this equipment did not reach the unit. Nor were hand grenades available. A case that had been brought up in response to a request lacked fuses.
The preparatory artillery and mortar fires got off on time; but near the 0800 jump-off hour one of the engineer platoon leaders said he could not be ready, and the attack was postponed until 0815. Just as the American artillery ceased fire, enemy artillery opened up on the western half of the town with a barrage that prisoners later said was to have preceded a German attack. The 2d Platoon, Company C, under 1st Lt. Bernard E. Meier, poised to attack on the left of the main street, had several men slightly wounded, seven wounded badly enough to require evacuation, and three killed in this enemy barrage.
In Company A's assault against the church, the men moved out at 0815, the two assault squads rushing across the
REMAINS OF CHURCH AT VOSSENACK. After changing hands several times, the church was retaken on 7 November by Company A, 146th Engineers.
street in ones and twos under cover of fire from a third squad. Not a man was hit. No one entered the church until a full squad had built up across the road. Then the men entered one at a time, firing through the main door, rushing inside, dodging to one side, firing again, and ferreting out the enemy in the church's rubble-strewn remains. They killed a number of Germans and took sixteen prisoners. The squads next overcame a machine gun in the cemetery behind the church and took up firing positions to support the Company C advance on the left.
Lieutenant Meier's 2d Platoon, Company C, which had been hit heavily by the German artillery fire, was to take the buildings on the left of the main street. As the men made ready to assault the first building, they saw the muzzle of a machine pistol projecting from the only window in the western wall of the structure. The supporting tanks could not fire on this particular building, because an orchard obscured their view. Lieutenant Meier therefore sent word to Company A on the right to divert the Germans' attention by firing into the front of the building, thus allowing his men to rush the machine pistol.
Company A opened fire, and the muzzle of the machine pistol was withdrawn. Meier and five of his men dashed across the street and flattened themselves against the wall. When the machine pistol reappeared, Lieutenant Meier was on one side of the waist-high window, and Cpl. J. W. Crayton, an assistant squad leader, was on the other. Signaling to the lieutenant, Corporal Crayton jumped out in front of the window and fired his M-1 rifle from the hip, putting five slugs into the German. His body slumped forward on the window sill, and Crayton pushed it aside. As he prepared to enter, another engineer yelled to wait--he had found an American hand grenade. Lieutenant Meier pulled the pin, but before he could throw the grenade a white flag was waved from the window and a lone German came out in surrender.
Hearing other Germans moving inside, Lieutenant Meier called again to give them a chance to surrender, and then tossed the grenade. The explosion was followed by scuffling of feet and moaning. As the men prepared once again to enter the window, the company commander, Lieutenant Schindler, ran forward with the first German who had surrendered. The prisoner called out to his comrades, and nineteen more enemy soldiers filed out of the window. A search of the building revealed only one other German, his body almost in shreds.
Meier's 2d Platoon now found itself separated from the next building on the left of the main street by a large garden. Under covering fire provided by the company's machine guns, the platoon moved across the garden and found the Germans in the next house ready to surrender without much show of resistance. Inside the house the men discovered two cases of American hand grenades and divided them with the 1st Platoon. Continuing, the 2d Platoon took the remainder of the houses on the left with comparative ease, repeating the process of covering each assault with machine guns and also receiving assistance from the tanks on the south of town. The engineers found few prisoners, the Germans evidently retreating house by house ahead of the American advance. When the platoon neared the eastern end of town, a large number of Germans attempted
to escape across the open field toward the woods to the north. The combined fire of Lieutenant Meier's platoon and the Company A men who were following to garrison the buildings accounted for most of those who fled. As soon as the platoon reached the military crest of the hill, approximately four houses from the end of town, it halted because these last houses did not appear to be occupied. The time was about 1500.
Lieutenant Rollins' 1st Platoon, Company C, had followed Lieutenant Meier's men into the first house on the left of the main street. Supported by fire from the tanks on the south, Rollins' troops stormed across the main street to the first house east of the church and found that the Germans had retreated to the cellar. When the Germans heard the Americans on the first floor, they begged to surrender, and the platoon took twenty-two prisoners. The unit then systematically reduced the remaining houses on the south side of the street, delayed only once when Lieutenant Rollins had to stop to work out signals with the tankers for supporting machine gun fire. The lieutenant was slightly wounded about 1400, but the platoon sergeant, S. Sgt. Donald O. Gray, took command and finished the attack.10
As the five tanks of Lieutenant Johnson's 2d Platoon, Company B, 707th, had advanced south of Vossenack in support of the engineer attack, one round stuck in the gun tube of Sergeant Cook's tank. The shell casing came off, but the projectile refused to budge. The crew had to use a sledge hammer against the rammer staff to free the round. Enemy fire opened a leak in the gas tanks of another Sherman. The tank stayed in the fight even though its floor was flooded with gasoline.
Farther forward the tanks began to receive bracketing shellfire and were forced to maneuver well back to the rear and then go forward again closer to the buildings. As Sergeant Cook's tank approached the second north-south street, the engineer platoon sergeant cried out to him to watch for an enemy Panzerfaust behind the building to his left front. Almost immediately a round from a Panzerfaust hit just to the right of Sergeant Cook's tank. Cook quickly replied with two rounds of high explosive. The first missed but the second struck the corner of the building just as another Panzerfaust was thrust around the corner to be fired.
Another of the tanks, Cpl. Nick P. Orlando's in rear of the platoon, ran over a mine and was disabled. The crew dismounted and took cover in a building east of the church.
The armor reached the extreme eastern end of town and apparently intended to advance beyond the engineers, who had held up with four houses yet to go. At this point, however, the tanks began to receive direct fire from self-propelled guns or tanks on the Brandenberg-Bergstein ridge line. When Lieutenant Johnson reported this fire to Captain Granger, the tank company commander requested an air strike against the enemy gun positions. The request was answered with twelve P-47's of the 365th Group. Most of the planes bombed and strafed the assigned target, but at least two of the P-47's bombed and strafed Vossenack
itself. Sergeant Cook saw the planes circle Vossenack twice. Then the lead plane dived straight at the town, opened fire with its machine guns, and released its bombs. One bomb hit the road just in front of Cook's tank; the other dropped beside the main street farther to the rear. The second plane also peeled off and dived on the town, its machine guns chattering. One of its bombs landed in the road, and the second hit the house in which Corporal Orlando's tank crew had taken cover. One man was seriously wounded, and the tank driver was killed. Three of the engineers were slightly wounded; another was covered with debris by one bomb and uncovered by the blast from another. The IX TAC reported this mission against Vossenack as being "at the request of the controller" and also reported that "at request, also bombed and strafed . . . Bergstein."11
After the misdirected air strike, the engineers in the eastern end of town, fearing counterattack, were concerned about the small number of men they had left after their attack. Late in the afternoon Lieutenant Meier went to the infantry-engineer CP west of the church and rounded up those men who had been sent back as escorts for the wounded and as guards for prisoners. The infantry survivors of the 2d Battalion, 112th, took over the defense of the church to allow an additional platoon of Company A, 146th, to join the easternmost defenses. Before dark the tank that had been leaking gasoline retired to Germeter and Lieutenant Johnson's tank blundered into a bomb crater, thus leaving three operational tanks tied in with the engineer defense.12
Task Force Davis
After the 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division assumed responsibility for the 109th Infantry's wooded sector north of Germeter at 1250 on 7 November, it held in place the remainder of the day and night. To the south two companies of the 110th Infantry tried again to close the gap between Simonskall and Raffelsbrand, but without success.13
The three 109th battalions assembled in the woods west of Germeter. Soon after dark the 2d Battalion relieved the 146th Engineers of its defensive role in Vossenack, and took up positions in and around the houses. Neither the 2d nor the 3d Battalion had received any replacements, and both were thus far below strength. The 1st Battalion had received some 200 men and was to constitute part of a force designed to recapture Schmidt, a force to be known as Task Force Davis.
On the evening of 6 November General Davis had given Colonel Mays, commander of the 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion, a number of rather indefinite references to a second major task force. Its first official designation or recognition was in Field Order 26 dated 070830, specifying a renewal of the attack to capture and hold Schmidt. The task force was to be under the command of General Davis and would consist primarily of the
following units: the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry; the 112th Infantry (minus the 2d Battalion); the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry; Companies A and C, 707th Tank Battalion; Companies B and C, 893d Tank Destroyer Battalion. Small detachments of medics, engineers, signalmen, and chemical mortar men would complete the list. On paper, this force seemed imposing. Not one of the infantry, tank, or tank destroyer units, however, was anywhere near full strength; indeed, only the battalion of the 109th could be termed an effective fighting force, and that only because it had been strengthened during the night of 6-7 November by replacements.14
About noon on 7 November Colonel Mays was called to the Task Force Davis CP (set up with the 112th Infantry rear CP) to report on the location and status of his destroyers. Colonel Mays informed General Davis that only two tank destroyers remained in the Kommerscheidt area, and only one of them was capable of maneuver. In the Germeter vicinity there remained seven destroyers of Company B and four replacement destroyers of Company C. Four guns of Company B under Lieutenant Davis were stationed throughout the day in the western end of Vossenack.
The mined and enemy-held Kall trail, Colonel Mays explained, had prevented other tank destroyers from getting to Kommerscheidt. The general nonetheless insisted that all remaining destroyers must cross the Kall immediately. On the grounds that no infantry were available, Davis refused the tank destroyer commander's request for a company, or even a platoon, of infantry to accompany his vehicles through the river gorge. Mays protested that, although the destroyers had machine guns, they were .50-calibers on antiaircraft mounts and were thus difficult to use against infantry at close range; the tank destroyers needed protection to cross the Kall. General Davis said he wanted a platoon of tank destroyers to leave Kommerscheidt immediately, regardless of whether they had accompanying infantry; it was a direct order.15
As a preliminary to Task Force Davis' move to Kommerscheidt, the 3d Battalion, 109th Infantry, was ordered to move immediately to the Kall bridge and secure it. Although the battalion moved out about 1500 and at 1735 reported it was in position, it was learned later that night that the battalion had lost its way in the woods west of Germeter and had dug in about a thousand yards southwest of Richelskaul in rear of the 110th Infantry.16
Movement orders for the main infantry component of Task Force Davis, the 1st Battalion, 109th Infantry, were not issued through the night. The remaining tanks of Companies B and C, 707th Tank Battalion (seventeen tanks), had been alerted for possible movement to Kommerscheidt but received no specific orders. News of the withdrawal from Kommerscheidt had by this time circulated in the rear areas, and there was an increasing feeling around the combined 112th rear--Task Force Davis CP that the projected attack,
should it ever be launched, would prove fruitless. And in the meantime, General Davis had received word from division to await additional instructions before issuing further movement orders.17
The Tank Destroyers Try To Cross the Kall
After General Davis during the afternoon had specifically ordered one platoon of tank destroyers to get to Kommerscheidt immediately, Colonel Mays had instructed his 2d Platoon, Company B, 893d, under Lieutenant Smith and assisted by Lieutenant Fuller, to attempt to run the Kall gantlet. Earlier in the day Fuller had gone forward in a half-track and determined that the main supply route was still blocked; but preparations were made with four destroyers to obey the general's order. Loaded with extra ammunition, rations, medical supplies, four additional machine guns, and with several men from the Reconnaissance Platoon as security, the four destroyers moved out about 1500.
They had little difficulty getting through Vossenack, now held by the 146th Engineers. When they turned south at the church and attempted to speed across the 1,200 yards of exposed ridge between the town and the woods, German artillery shells, direct fire from self-propelled guns, and long-range machine gun fire showered upon them. Two of the M-10's received direct shell hits and were knocked out. Another was hit by a shell on the left driving sprocket and veered off the road. The last destroyer neared the woods but was going too fast and skidded on the wet slope, plunging out of control over the left bank of the Kall trail and down toward the wooded gorge. The crewmen smashed their radios, removed gun parts, and withdrew toward the rear through the wooded draw south of Vossenack, their attempt at crossing the river a failure.18
Armor in Vossenack
The 2d Battalion, 109th Infantry, had assumed responsibility soon after dark for the defense of Vossenack. To avoid drawing enemy artillery fire on the town, the battalion commander and the tankers decided to keep all tanks in ready positions near Germeter. Lieutenant Johnson's tank platoon withdrew to Germeter, and about 2100 the lieutenant's tank was towed out of the bomb crater into which it had fallen.19
Lieutenant Davis' 1st Tank Destroyer Platoon had remained in Vossenack through the day. After dark the tank destroyer men, using a T-2 retriever, attempted to evacuate the destroyer that had fallen into a cellar on the north side of the street the preceding day. The T-2 eased quietly into position, the tow cables were fastened, and the retriever gunned its motor to pull out the destroyer. At that moment heavy enemy mortar fire came in and one round landed on the nose of the destroyer, wounding two men and killing the driver of the retriever. The attempt at evacuation was abandoned, and Lieutenant Davis' platoon
passed the remainder of the night uneventfully.20
After Colonel Peterson was taken to the rear, he was removed to the division CP at Roett, whereupon he asked to see General Cota. The general appeared, and Peterson explained the Kommerscheidt situation, rather incoherently. He told of the message directing him to report to the division command post. General Cota had sent no such message. At the time, he believed firmly that the regimental commander had abandoned his troops. Although he never determined who sent the message, the general later did establish to his "complete satisfaction" that Colonel Peterson had actually received instructions to return to the rear.
Conversations later that afternoon between General Cota and General Davis and between General Cota and the V Corps and First Army commanders resulted in Cota's positive recommendation that all his troops be withdrawn west of the Kall River. Both the army and corps commanders concurred. V Corps ordered that the 28th Division continue to hold the Vossenack ridge and that part of the Kall gorge west of the river, while withdrawing from the east bank. One regiment was to continue to work toward the south, while a third regiment was to be committed later with the 5th Armored Division to the south to assist in taking Strauch and Steckenborn. Late that night General Cota ordered that the 112th Infantry pull back to an assembly area for reconstitution; that the 3d Battalion, 110th, revert to the 110th Infantry; and that the 109th Infantry continue to hold the Vossenack ridge and move troops into the river gorge.21
The first air mission of 7 November was at 1115 by a squadron of P-47's of the 365th Group against smoke markings in Ruhrberg, southeast of Strauch, with no results observed. Shortly after noon, thirty-six P-38's of the 370th Fighter Group blaze-bombed eight suspected gun emplacements in the vicinity of Grosshau (some two miles northeast of Huertgen) as marked by smoke from American artillery. Pilots reported smoke and fire blanketing the entire area, and the ground control officer said the targets were well covered by bombs. One aircraft was lost to enemy flak.
The misdirected mission against Vossenack by twelve P-47's of the 365th Group lasted from 1230 to 1350. Pilots reported "one observation post believed destroyed by bombing, no results observed on strafing." One light gun position was claimed probably destroyed in Bergstein, and the town was left burning. In midafternoon another squadron of the 365th bombed on smoke markings in the "west edge of Schmidt," possibly the mission praised by Major Dana, 112th Infantry S-3, for having bombed a square patch of woods west of Kommerscheidt. After dark the 422d Night Fighter Group flew an intruder mission over the 28th Division sector, giving particular
28th Division Front
Dawn, 8 November 1944
attention to enemy road movements east of Schmidt; no results were recorded.22
The Enemy Situation
On 7 November the 1055th Regiment, supported by the 16th Panzer Regiment, finally succeeded in driving the Americans from Kommerscheidt to the northern woods line. This news in enemy reports was tempered somewhat in that the 156th Panzer Grenadier Regiment and elements of the 60th Panzer Grenadier Regiment had lost the eastern half of Vossenack. The Germans had been planning an attack to take the western half of the town at the same time the Americans struck to recapture the eastern half, and in the battle that followed German losses were "considerable." The attack in the Kall gorge during the night of 6-7 November against the 1340th Engineers had been made by the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 116th Panzer Division, which claimed to have taken the Mestrenger Muehle again after having sustained "considerable losses" in the face of "strong enemy resistance."
On the northern and southern shoulders of the American penetration the enemy situation remained relatively the same. The Germans claimed that the effective employment of mines and mortars stopped another thrust toward Huertgen and that an American attack in company strength was repulsed at Raffelsbrand. Prisoner identifications by the 28th Division on this date indicated that all three battalions of the 1056th Regiment roamed the Kall gorge between Simonskall and Mestrenger Muehle and that
elements of the 275th Division and miscellaneous fortress units continued to hold in the vicinity of Raffelsbrand.23
Summary for 7 November and Night of 7-8 November
At daylight on 8 November the 28th Division was making plans for major readjustments in its lines, including withdrawal of all its troops from east of the Kall River. But many of the division's troops were still in a critical condition. The remnants of the 1st and 3d Battalions, 112th Infantry, had finally lost Kommerscheidt after a disastrous enemy tank-infantry attack but then had held along with the 3d Battalion, 110th Infantry, at the northern woods line overlooking Kommerscheidt. (Map 30) Only two tank destroyers (one of them immobilized), one tank, and two 57-mm. antitank guns remained for antitank defense.
In the Kall gorge one engineer company (Company C, 1340th) had been virtually annihilated. Four engineer platoons now held positions along the Kall trail, with two of the platoons located so that they could fire on anyone entering the bridge area. A fifth engineer platoon held to the south on the firebreak that ran parallel to the main supply route. The enemy held the Mestrenger Muehle, however, and the American engineers had no contact with the forces along the Kommerscheidt woods line. Approximately three more platoons of engineers were at the entrance of the Kall trail into the western edge of the Kall woods.
The combined 1st-3d Battalion, 112th, aid station still operated in the log dugout alongside the trail in the gorge, but only walking wounded had been evacuated during the period. Although a charge by four tank destroyers had been attempted, no resupply of any sort to the Kommerscheidt force had been effected across this trail.
In Vossenack the eastern half of the town had been recaptured during the day in a well-executed maneuver by two understrength engineer companies supported by a platoon of tanks. The engineers, Companies A and C, 146th, had lacked radios, grenades, and mortars. At dark they had withdrawn along with the handful of survivors of the 2d Battalion, 112th Infantry, to assembly areas west of Germeter. The 2d Battalion, 109th Infantry, already battered from a long fight in the woods to the north, had taken over defense of the town. It had been relieved north of Germeter by the 12th Infantry.
The 109th Infantry had ordered its 3d Battalion to the Kall bridge, but the battalion lost its way behind the 110th Infantry. Although the 1st Battalion, 109th, had been assigned as a part of newly formed Task Force Davis, it was still in an assembly area west of Germeter. The task force had for all practical purposes been abandoned during the night after its mission to retake Schmidt had been negated by corps and army decisions to withdraw from beyond the Kall.
New orders now awaited the 28th Division. The immediate problems were to withdraw those troops still east of the river and to reinforce the defenders of the Kall bridge area.
1. V Corps Study, G-3 Sec.
2. This information is from Combat Interv 77 with Rumbaugh-Joyce and Combat Interv 76 with Ripple. According to Colonel Peterson there was no such plan to counterattack. He had planned his defense in depth because he felt all along that his troops would be pushed out of Kommerscheidt. See Interv with Peterson.
3. Information on this message is from Combat Interv 77 with Cota and Rumbaugh-Joyce; Combat Interv 76 with Ripple; Intervs with Gen Cota and with Col Peterson. General Cota says definitely that Colonel Peterson was not to be summarily relieved of his command, that is, in the sense that his performance had not been satisfactory. Just who sent the message cannot be determined, but General Cota, although originally doubtful, established to his satisfaction that it was sent. Colonel Peterson, later wounded, did not know there was any doubt about the message until well after the war was over. The message, he says, was left in the pocket of his overcoat, which was taken from him as he was being evacuated. The possibility that it might have been a German ruse, Peterson discounts, although he cannot remember whether the message had been authenticated by its sender.
4. Unless otherwise noted, the Kommerscheidt story is from the following: Combat Interv 75 with Dana, Kelly-Hunter, Tyo, Quinton-Hausman-Lockwood-Kertes-Norton, Littlehales-Skain, Piercey, Kudiak, Walker, Ripperdam, Cipra; Combat Interv 76 with Ripple, Hostrup-Fleig-Payne, Pugh; V Corps Study, G-3 and Arty Secs; Interv with Col Peterson; Combat Interv 77 with Rumbaugh-Joyce; 28th Div Arty Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 229th FA Bn AAR, 7 Nov 44.
5. Combat Interv 75 with Dana, Perll; Combat Interv 76 with Ripple, Pugh, Hostrup-Fleig-Payne; Combat Interv 77 with Rumbaugh-Joyce; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; V Corps Study, Arty Sec. The time of the German night attack is established from the division artillery journal, 7 November 1944, which notes enemy flares near Kommerscheidt at 1835.
6. Combat Interv 75 with Nelson; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 112th Inf S-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
7. Combat Interv 75 with Cipra, Makousky, Creegan, Maj Bruce Renfroe, S-3, and S Sgt Earlis S. Gillespie, Co C, 1340th Engrs; Setliffe Rpt.
8. Combat Interv 75 with Bane, Creegan, Lutz, Manin, Makousky, Doherty; Setliffe Rpt; 1340th Engr Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
9. Interv with Peterson.
10. Combat Interv 75 with Baker-Ball, Isley, Meier; Isley Notes; Combat Interv 76 with Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook; 28th Div G-2 File, 7 Nov 44.
11. Combat Interv 75 with Condon, Isley, Meier; Combat Interv 76 with Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook; FUSA and IX TAC Sum, 7 Nov 44.
12. Combat Interv 75 with Meier, Isley; Combat Interv 76 with Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
13. Combat Interv 77 with 110th Inf personnel; 110th Inf S-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
14. Combat Interv 76 with Mays; Combat Interv 77 with 109th personnel; 109th Inf S-3 Jnl, 6-7 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 28th Div AAR, Nov 44; TF Davis Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
15. Combat Interv 76 with Mays; TF Davis Jnl, 7 Nov 44. Indirect quotes are from Mays.
16. TF Davis Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 28th Div. G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; Combat Interv 77 with 109th personnel; 109th Inf S-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; Ltr, Gen Davis to Hist Div, 27 Dec 49.
17. Combat Interv 76 with Mays; Combat Interv 77 with 109th personnel; Ltr, Gen Davis to Hist Div, 27 Dec 49.
18. Combat Interv 76 with Fuller, Davis-Murphy-Gardner, Cole, Mays; V Corps Study, TD Sec.
19. Combat Interv 76 with Granger-Anderson-Walling-Cook.
20. Combat Interv 76 with Davis-Murphy-Gardner.
21. Combat Interv 76 with Ripple; Intervs with Col Peterson and with Gen Cota; 110th Inf S-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44; 28th Div G-3 Jnl, 7 Nov 44.
22. FUSA and IX TAC Sum, 7 Nov 44; V Corps Study, G-3 Air Sec; Combat Interv 74 with Howison.
23. Sit Rpts, 7 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; ETHINT 56 (Gersdorff and Waldenburg).