WITH THE 101st CAVALRY IN WORLD WAR II
COLONEL CHARLES K. GRAYDON
THE AGE OF MECHANIZED CAVALRY BEGINS
In 1933, General Douglas McArthur, then Army Chief of Staff, had directed that each branch mechanize to the greatest extent needed to best execute its mission. As a result, the 1st and 13th Cavalry Regiments were dismounted and experimentally mechanized. Later, infantry tank battalions and field artillery units were merged into them to form a Provisional Armored Corps. No army had done this before.
Some of the most interested foreign military observers at the exercises and maneuvers of these units were German Officers. It is not by coincidence that only a few years later the mechanized combined arms teams of the German Panzer Divisions rode rough shod through the Polish Cavalry, and later, through the entire French and British Armies. The 101st Cavalry had its own sad experience with mechanized forces in the 1939 First Army Maneuvers at Plattsburg, New York. Faced against the Provisional Armored Corps, it was no match for such an organization. To many young cavalrymen "the hand writing was on the wall."
Beginning in 1939, most of the many National Guard cavalry regiments were transformed into horse‑mechanized units (one horse squadron and one mechanized squadron ). This was an apparent compromise between horse loving senior officers and those who wished for modernizations.
CALL TO ACTIVE DUTY – NOVEMBER 1940
In 1940, because of the deteriorating world situation, President Franklin Roosevelt called 100,000 National Guardsmen into Federal service for a one year period. At that time, the 101st Cavalry was located in Manhattan (Squadron A), Brooklyn (Squadron C) and upstate New York (Geneseo Troop). Headquarters was in Brooklyn.
The regiment was alerted for active duty in the fall of 1940, and was reorganized from a horse regiment into a horse‑mechanized regiment set up as follows:
1st Squadron (horse)
Troops A, B, C (rifle troops)
2nd Squadron (mechanized)
Troops D & E (scout cars)
Troop F (motorcycles)
The Service Troop was equipped with enough large tractor‑trailers to move the entire 1st Squadron on road marches.
As could be expected, those who were "unhorsed" and went to the mechanized units were extremely unhappy. They continued to wear boots and breeches and were authorized to wear spurs when in uniform off duty.
During National Guard Service, some of the horses were supplied by the government but most were owned by the units and rented out to Uncle Sam. When the unit went on active duty, these horses, like the men, were Federalized. In those days, a Cavalry officer was authorized to keep a private horse at government expense, where facilities were available. By a special arrangement, the Squadron A Club and the Squadron C Club, which owned horse farms at Nyack and Huntington, New York, respectively, agreed to sell one thoroughbred officers mount to each officer for the price of one dollar! All officers in the regiment took advantage of this generous offer.
At any rate, the reorganization and alert orders created a frenzy of activity in the armories. In December 1940, several lieutenants were put on active duty to attend the U.S. Cavalry School at Fort Riley to learn how to be better horse cavalry platoon leaders – horse cavalry tactics, pistol charges, horse shoeing, horsemanship, etc. With every cavalry regiment in the Army soon to be or already reorganized as horse‑mechanized units, we could not understand why the three month course included only one hour orientation in the new organization!
FORT DEVENS ‑ CAROLINAS , PINE CAMP
The regiment was Federalized on 27 January 1941, at the home armories and immediately moved to Fort Devens, Mass. There it was assigned to VI Corps, U. S. First Army. At that time, Colonel Gilbert Ackerman was in command with Major Alfred (Tubby) Tuckerman in command of the 1st (horse) Squadron and Major Walter Lee in command of the 2nd (mechanized) Squadron.
The first weeks at Devens were spent in intensive individual training and processing of new equipment and horses. However, shortages, particularly of vehicles, horses and radios handicapped training for many months.
The wives who followed their men had their experience as camp followers, the lot of Army wives over many centuries. They found themselves competing with the families of the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One," also stationed at Devens, for Quarters in the small towns around the Fort – Ayer, Harvard, Groton, Leominster, Pepperell, etc.
One incident that broke the monotony of training was related by Sgt. Ted Ramsland of C Troop. There always had been a rivalry between the Squadron A and Squadron C men. A plan was conceived to have a joint ride and "picnic" bivouac near Pepperell, New Hampshire, intended to bring the two factions closer together. Things worked out well until late at night a few playful Squadron C troopers released the Squadron A horses off the picket lines resulting in a wild stampede. The good citizens of Ayer were startled out of their wits when, late at night, one hundred odd horses streamed pell‑mell through their town bound for the home stables. After this the rivalry intensified and several NCO's lost their stripes.
In August, the regiment engaged in a one‑week field maneuver off the post with units of the 1st Division providing the opposition. The beautiful countryside and quaint villages of New England provided an incongruous setting for the practice of war. The natives were continually surprised at the appearance of armed men, horses and machines dashing back and forth across the landscape. In one instance Captain Milton Kendall was leading his gallant motorcycle troopers into the sleepy town of Nashua only to find "enemy" forces already there. This led to a "fire fight" while the people on the streets and leaning out of windows looked on in astonishment. The rigors of field duty for Captain Bob Sweeney's horse troopers was eased by the appearance of a friendly milkman who delivered his products to their bivouac area every morning wherever they were.
These maneuvers gave the regiment an opportunity to work out many bugs in the new organization in preparation for a much larger field exercise soon to follow.
On 29 September 1941 the regiment left Fort Devens to participate in the First Army Maneuvers in the Carolinas. For the first time as a horse‑mechanized outfit, the 101st moved over the road in a single column. With its conglomeration of scout cars, motorcycles, tractor-trailers, and various sized trucks the column, moving in serials, extended several miles down the high ways, while the daring young motorcycle troopers dashed up and down the column riding traffic control.
The horse troopers had a different thrill riding in the tractor‑trailers as they barreled down the main highways on their first long trip. Each trailer held an entire eight man squad with its horses, feed and equipment. The men rode in a small compartment in front separated from the horses only by removable "bay boards." Their main fear was that if the tractor‑trailers had to slow down suddenly they would surely end up with several tons of horseflesh in their laps.
Upon arrival in North Carolina, a tent camp was established in a field near the small town of Candor which would be used as a base camp for the next nine weeks. The only amenities in Candor were a small restaurant and a barber shop with two bathtubs where a customer could get a haircut and hot bath for two dollars.
At that time, the press was calling the army the "Broomstick Army," because of the vast shortages of equipment throughout all units. Broomsticks represented machine guns, logs represented artillery pieces, trucks represented tanks, etc. The 101st Cavalry was particularly handicapped by a shortage of radios which prevented it from operating effectively in widely dispersed formations as it normally should. Motorcycles and scout cars were also in short supply.
As the maneuvers progressed, it became clear to many that the inclusion of horse and mechanized units in one regiment was a mistake. Their capabilities were completely different, nor did they complement each other in the completion of missions as the Field Manuals said they were meant to do. Furthermore, the use of tractor‑trailers to move men and horses from one battle area to another was difficult. They were unwieldy and impossible to camouflage. In one instance the column commander was embarrassed in finding himself on a narrow dead‑end road. It took half a day to get the column turned around. In another situation the tractor‑trailers became bogged down in a field after an all night rainstorm, thereby preventing them being moved for almost an entire day. In spite of these problems the 101st Cavalry did a good job and was favorably mentioned in the critiques following each maneuver phase.
The regiment began its eight hundred mile march back to Fort Devens on 3 December, camped the last night out on the West Point Plains and arrived at Devens on 6 December. Our only thought was that our year of active duty would be over in less than one month. This hope was of course exploded when news of Pearl Harbor was received the next day.
The outfit went back into its seemingly endless training on return to Devens. After Pearl Harbor things began to change. VI corps, including the 101st Cavalry, had been earmarked for the Philippines in event of war with Japan but when those islands were overrun the plan was canceled. In the meanwhile the U.S. Army Air Force began ferrying P‑38 fighters to England using Dow Air Base at Bangor, Maine as the jump‑off place. In January the regiment was ordered to provide security to the base and the Maine Coast in its vicinity.
The mechanized troops were dispatched to Bangor on a rotation basis and as one can imagine patrolling and out‑posting the wind and snow blown airfield on foot and in open scout cars and motor cycles was not a choice assignment. After this, the men found rest and relaxation and a chance to let off steam in Bangor, which was an old lumber town used to young loggers coming in to have fun.
On one Saturday night in particular, the boys let off too much steam. That Sunday morning as F Troop C.O., I was summoned to the city jail where I found three very docile troopers. Upon inquiry it was revealed that two of them had tried to clean out Kerrigan's Bar defending the honor of a young lady customer who had been insulted.
In another situation, a young homesick Private, at 1 a.m., had seen a telephone through the window of a Chinese laundry. He had to get in to make a phone call to his girl friend. The frightened proprietor, who thought that he was being robbed, summoned the police. According the first page newspaper account published, one patrolman was injured by the soldier's spurs while attempting to put him in the patrol wagon!
Back at Fort Devens, the regiment began losing officers and N.C.O.'s in droves primarily to cadre newly formed units. Also, to their credit, dozens of the most experienced N.C.O.'s were ordered to Officers Training Schools after passing the necessary examinations. Most of these men and others who left the regiment served their country with honor on all of the far flung battle fronts of the great war from Burma to the African Desert and into the heart of Germany.
In the late spring and summer, several hundred draftees were received. Soon the regiment became a truly cosmopolitan outfit with New Yorkers, farmers, hillbillies, cowboys, mill workers, Indians and many other types. Temporary units were established, staffed by regimental officers and N.C.O.'s, to put the new men through basic training. During this period the regular troops could sometimes assemble less than thirty men at Drill Call. Under these conditions there was little chance of the regiment being called for overseas service. However, the regiment was proud of the fact that it had a higher percentage of N.C.O.'s going to O.C.S. than perhaps any other unit in the Army.
In April 1942, another reorganization took place. This time the regiment became fully mechanized and was designated 101st Cavalry (Mecz). The two squadrons became identical with three mechanized recon troops, F Troop (motorcycle) of the 2nd Squadron having been converted to a recon troop. At the same time, the 101st began receiving jeeps to replace the motorcycles. This was a relief to many of those who had risked their lives riding them in the snow of New England and mud of the Carolinas.
It was a day of mixed emotions when the last horses left the regiment and were sent to the Army Remount Station at Front Royal, Virginia. As they paraded down the street past Regimental Headquarters it was lined with men, many with tears in their eyes. One Sergeant expressed his feelings this way: "We had been proud of continuing in the old tradition, but soon became envious of the mechanized boys who at the end of the day simply parked their vehicles and took off on pass or whatever, while we had to unsaddle, groom, water and feed our horses and stow our gear. Our romance with horses was soon over. Anyway, who wants to go to war on such a noble animal?"
All the troopers wondered where their faithful mounts would end up. Some years later, when I was a military advisor to Turkish Army Units, I got a big surprise. There, on the picket lines of the First Turkish Cavalry Division, stood dozens of horses with the familiar Preston neck brand of the U.S. Army. Who knows how many of them may have been on the picket lines of the 101st Cavalry?
On 4 September, the regiment left Fort Devens for Pine Camp (now Camp Drum) near Watertown, New York, for eight weeks of field training. By this time the outfit had almost fully recovered from its large personnel turnover and reorganization of the previous six months.
Pine Camp was a familiar stomping ground for the older troopers who had participated in summer training there for many years. The only apparent change was the substitution of motor parks for picket lines. The troopers who had been there before found that the movement of the vehicles, even jeeps, was greatly restricted compared to their experience with horses over the same terrain.
The 4th Armored Division was stationed there at the time and the 101st provided the "enemy" for its final training tests. During these tests many, of us had the opportunity of seeing an entire tank battalion of the division with its fifty odd medium tanks rapidly bearing down on us – a truly awesome sight not soon forgotten.
Toward the end of the training at Pine Camp, a First Army team arrived to put the regiment through a training test. For reasons known only to them this test forced a dismounted attack on enemy fixed positions – one thing that cavalry was not trained, organized or equipped to do. Most of us felt that this was not a valid test of the regiment's capabilities.
On 26 October 1942 the 101st arrived back at Fort Devens from Pine Camp where training continued. For the last time would the men stand reveille at dawn in overcoats and long johns on the snow blown troop streets during a New England winter.
FORT MEADE AND THE EASTERN DEFENSE COMMAND
On 10 March 1943, the regiment was transferred to Fort Meade, Maryland, then Headquarters of the Second U.S. Army. By this time, it contained less than forty‑five percent of the officers and men who came in to Federal Service with it. In the meanwhile, several of the N.C.O.'s who went to O.C.S. in 1941, came back as Second Lieutenants.
Upon arrival at Fort Meade, the 101st became Mobile Reserve, Eastern Defense Command that had been established in 1942, to defend the coastline against submarine landed and parachute dropped saboteurs. It was an eerie sight at night to look out from the coast line and see the flash of explosions as torpedoes struck tankers only a few miles off the shoreline. Oil slicks from sinking ships polluted the coast from Maine to Florida.
By this time, the war had heated up in Europe. Ile American invasion of Africa had already taken place the previous November, and most of the troopers had become anxious to test their mettle in combat. They were not happy to have been diverted to the secondary but important mission of defending the coast while at the same time continuing the endless training.
While at Meade, another First Army team descended on the regiment to conduct a training test. This test too became a frustrating experience. Using the main highway between Washington and New York as an axis of advance, the regiment was required to "reconnoiter in zone" up through the center of Baltimore and other towns along the way all jam packed with civilian traffic. The grand finale was an attack on fixed positions on the Fort Dix Military Reservation.
It was not long after this that Col. Ackerman was relieved as Commanding Officer. He had been in the 101st Cavalry for many years and upon the death of Col. James Howlett, in 1938, had taken over the regiment. He was well liked and the rumor persisted that he had not been given a fair deal by First Army.
On 20 August 1943 Colonel Charles B. McClelland, a young, aggressive officer assumed command. "Mac" gave the outfit a shot in the arm. He made his mark early by emphasizing physical fit ness for all officers and men. Wherever we went thereafter obstacle courses were built that would challenge the ability of an orangutan. Soon we were swinging on ropes with the greatest of ease across gullies twenty feet deep and climbing walls like monkeys. In one place, all officers had to negotiate an obstacle course to get to their mess hall.
In October 1943 the regiment was given the mission of guarding the Chesapeake Bay Sector of the Eastern Defense Command which extended from the eastern shore of Maryland to South Carolina. Regimental Headquarters was established at Camp Ashby, Virginia, a former prisoner of war camp in back of Virginia Beach. Camp Ashby became known as "Camp Swampy". 1st Squadron Headquarters was stationed at Camp Branch, North Carolina and the 2nd Squadron Headquarters at Somerset, Maryland. This mission entailed the establishment of scattered look‑out posts along the beaches and continuous patrolling in between them. Ironically one stretch of coastline south of Virginia Beach had previously been patrolled by Coast Guard men mounted on horses, but was now covered by ex‑ horse soldiers on foot.
The regiment had no sooner became well established in its new locations when it went through its third major reorganization‑‑first from an all horse regiment to a horse‑mechanized regiment next to a completely mechanized regiment and this time to a Mechanized Cavalry Group organized as follows:
Hq and Hq Troop 101st Cavalry Group, Mecz.
Hq 101 Cavalry Recon Sq. Mecz.
Hq Service Troop
Troops A, B & C (recon troops)
Troop E (75 mm assault gun)
Company F (light tank)
Hq 116 Calvary Recon Sq. Mecz.
Hq Service Troop
Troops A, B & C (recon troops)
Troop E (75 mm assault gun)
Company F (light tank)
In this configuration the two squadrons were only attached, not organic, to the Group. By the addition of a Headquarters and Service Troop, they became administratively and logistically independent. The addition of an assault gun troop and a tank company made the Squadrons more capable of independent action. The Group Headquarters had no administrative and service elements and retained only operational control of attached units.
In the new organization, Col. McClelland commanded this Group with Lt. Col. Leo Martenson as executive officer. Lt. Col. Milton Kendall commanded the 101st Cav. Sq. with Major Henry Brock as executive officer. Lt. Col. Hubert Leonard commanded the 116th Cav. Sq. and Major Robert Feagin was his executive officer.
Soon after the reorganization was completed the Squadrons began drawing the new M8 armored cars to replace the old and battered scout cars. On the present mission and scattered as they were the units had little opportunity to train with these new vehicles and the tanks and assault guns they were receiving.
In January 1944, the 34th Cavalry Recon Squadron was attached to the group and the sector of responsibility was extended from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to a boundary south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Putting it mildly this eight hundred and fifty mile coastline was a long stretch of territory for three Cavalry Squadrons to patrol.
Since this last reorganization was the way the group would finally go into combat it would be well to point out how the combat units were organized and something about their equipment.
The recon troops had three platoons, each consisting of an M8 Armored Car Section with two armored cars, a Scout Section with six jeeps. The platoon leader rode in the third armored car. The M8's carried one turret mounted 37 mm. cannon and a 30 cal. coaxial machine gun. Later a 50 cal. AA machine gun was mounted on a ring mount in the turret. The M8 was rated to withstand 50 cal. machine gun on the front and on the turret. The scout jeeps had pedestal mounted 30 or 50 cal. machine guns.
The assault gun troop consisted of three assault gun platoons each containing two 75 mm. Howitzers mounted on armored track vehicles. This gun was intended for direct fire but could also be used for indirect fire at medium ranges.
The Tank Company had three platoons of five light M5 series tanks each. They carried the 37 mm. turret gun with 30 cal. coaxial machine gun plus a 30 cal. hull machine gun and a ^30 cal. A machine gun was on the turret. This tank was rated to withstand 20 mm cannon fire.
Although the Cavalry Squadrons were not designed for "slugging matches" with enemy tanks and infantry, with their lightly ar mored vehicles and jeeps they were the fastest moving units in the Army with great flexibility due largely to their excellent radio communications.
CAMP CAMPBELL KENTUCKY AND OVERSEAS MOVEMENT
On 1 July 1944, the scattered units of the Group were assembled and moved by rail to Camp Campbell for final training and preparation for overseas movement. Here were adequate firing ranges for the tank and assault gun weapons as well as small arms. The "camp followers" found makeshift homes in Clarksville, Tenn. and other small towns to be with their men for the last time. Forever?
On 26 October, the Group was moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and five days later embarked at the Brooklyn Army Base bound for England on the transport "Argentina," former luxury liner. Former passengers would have been amazed at the changes in this elegant ship, with most of the men sleeping in the hold on bunks stacked three and sometimes four deep. Good weather prevailed and we were permitted to walk the decks in shifts in order to avoid crowding.
ENGLAND AND MOVEMENT TO FRANCE
Arriving at Liverpool, England, on 12 November 1944, the Group was moved by rail to Camp Anty‑Cross near Barrow‑in‑Furness in northern England, close to the Scottish border. We were the first "Yanks" to be stationed there. It had been used by a Scottish Highland brigade which had just gone to France. After the several days quarantine required by the British on all troops coming into England, the troopers were given their first passes to go out on the town. The next morning unusual stories were circulated about the terrific hospitality of the British lassies. It must be remembered that most of the young British men had been away at the war for several years. Some of the young ladies gave our boys the answer to the age‑old question of "What do the Scotchmen wear under their kilts?"
Again the Group was held up getting into the active fighting because the ships containing all the vehicles and heavy equipment had been diverted to higher priority units. Without it time was spent on long road marches across the beautiful English country side and on other dismounted training.
When equipment began arriving the supply and maintenance men did yeoman's work putting it into service and making several modifications. Upright iron T bars were installed on the front of the jeeps to counter a nasty German habit of stretching wire neck‑high across roads. The M8 armored cars and other vehicles were provided with 50 cal. AA machine guns on ring mounts.
In the meanwhile the deep British sense of hospitality reached out in genuine welcome to the equally friendly and well‑behaved "Yanks." Barrow‑in‑Furness and Camp Anty‑Cross and the good people there will always hold a warm place in the hearts of the men of the 101st. Christmas Eve midnight services and the mess hall afterwards with hot coffee and doughnuts and the British Red Cross girls who made them added to these memories. Here we heard Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas" for the first time over BBC.
On 4 January 1945, the 101st moved by rail and road to Camp Barton‑Stacey in southern England to prepare for movement to France. General purpose vehicles were drawn and serviced and combat loads were issued from Ordnance Depots. On 29 January, the Group moved to the Southampton Marshaling Area in the midst of a snow storm and embarked on four LST's, two Liberty Ships and a troop trans port.
The LST's and troop ships arrived at Le Havre, France, 31 January, while the two Liberty Ships containing the Reconnaissance Troops disembarked up the Seine River at Rouen. From there the units assembled at Camp Twenty Grand near Duclair, France where orders were received to move to the Faulequemont Area behind the battle line south of the Saar River in the Seventh Army Sector. As the columns moved eastward closer to the fighting, all of us were thinking of how we would react in battle for the first time. While passing through Soissons and Verdun our thoughts also dwelt on the terrible carnage inflicted during the stalemated battles in that area during World War I. 'Me units closed in bivouac at St. Avold, France on 7 February.
SITUATION ON THE WESTERN FRONT FEBRUARY 1945
Following the rapid withdrawal of German troops across France late in the summer of 1944, they had turned and made a stand on or close to the French ‑ German border. At that time the American supply lines had been badly over extended to the point where the units were forced to stop to wait for supplies and replacements. This permitted the Germans to build up their strength in the Siegfried Line and elsewhere along their border. Efforts to continue offensive operations were further delayed by the Battle of the Bulge, since all major effort had to be directed toward reducing the large salient punched into the Allied lines by the German Army.
It was not until February 1945, that General Eisenhower directed that the attack be resumed on a wide front from the North Sea to the Swiss border. The Seventh Army was then occupying the line of the Saar River with the Third Army on its left flank and the French First Army on the right. Its first task was to cross the Saar River and breech the Siegfried Line. It was at this point that the 101st Cavalry went into the line.
FIGHTING ON THE LINE OF THE SAAR RIVER
At St. Avoid on 10 February, the 101st was attached to XV Corps, Seventh Army, Sixth Armv Group under General Jacob Devers, with orders to relieve the 106th Cavalry Croup in its defensive mission along the line Emm weiler ‑ Wadgassen, Germany. The Group Headquarters and that of the 116th Recon Squadron were set up at Lauterbach, two miles from the German border. 'Me 101st Recon Squadron set up its CP at Carlsbrunn, Germany.
When the Group relieved the 106th Cavalry on 11 February, it inherited a small army at the same time. Attached were the following units:
17th Field Artillery Group
93rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion
802nd Field Artillery Battalion
185th Engineer Group (Combat)
48th Engineer Battalion (C)
165th Engineer Battalion (C)
2756th Engineer Battalion (C)
2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion (4.2 mm)
Air Support Party
Allied Military Government Det.
Counter Intelligence Det.
In the execution of the Group defensive mission the engineers not only provided their usual engineer support, but fought as infantry which was most welcome to a cavalry unit which was devoid of an organic dismounted infantry capability. The 4.2 mortars of the Mortar Bn. provided extremely lethal close‑fire support in addition to that of the attached artillery battalions, which could call in additional medium and heavy artillery, when needed.
Within days of taking over from the 106th Cavalry Group, orders were received from XV Corps to prepare for an attack to close on the Saar River preparatory to crossing operations. The date of this attack was contingent upon the progress of other Corps units. In the meanwhile, the defensive line was occupied by the establishment of strong points joined by Root and vehicular patrols. The bulk of the two squadrons were held back in mobile reserve. This defense line had been established back in the previous November and it was thickly strewn with anti‑personnel and anti‑tank mines which had not been recorded making it extremely dangerous to move throughout the area.
Combat operations consisted primarily of aggressive patrolling by both sides and the exchange of mortar and artillery fire. It is interesting to note that our mortar battalion was billeted in one of Hitler's former "Baby Factories." In order to improve the Aryan race he had set up resort‑like establishments occupied by blonde blue‑eyed, healthy maidens who were willing to sacrifice their virginity to selected, equally blonde, blue‑eyed and healthy young German soldiers who were given one week's leave to fulfill this additional duty to the Fatherland.
On 12 March orders were received to execute the attack which had been delayed by strong enemy resistance given the 70th Infantry Division on the Group's right flank. The night. of 13 March our combat patrols gained detailed information of the enemy positions. Using this information the main attack took off the following morning supported by close air support and artillery and led by dismounted troopers.
The 101st Cavalry Squadron met particularly hard resistance from an enemy strong point on Hill 283 overlooking the entire battle area. Captain Ralph Ritchie leading A Troop up the hill was wounded three times before being evacuated in the desperate fighting on the slopes Lt. Robert Ulmschneider took over the troop and remained in command until the end of the war.
All of the recon troops reinforced with tank and assault gun platoons took part in this fight Captain Abe Friedman's B Troop of the 101st attacked along the flank of A Troop. C Troop of the 101st, Captain Biels commanding, attacked down the Ludweiler ‑ Geislautern road and cleared the latter town. Lt. Borkowski led a platoon, sometimes on hands and knees, through dense mines and booby traps, entered the town of Shaffhausen and extended his patrol to Hostenbach. A Troop, commanded by Captain Al Burgess, and B Troop of the 116th, commanded by Captain Gus Littleton, soon followed, mopped up those two towns and continued the attack to the river. C Troop of the 116th, commanded by Captain Lou Bossert attached to the 101st Recon Squadron, got in a heavy fight for the Wehrden ‑ Volklingen bridge faced with fire from across the river.
By sundown of the l5th, the Group had taken all strong points and towns on the west side of the Saar at the expense of thirty‑three killed, wounded and missing. LA. Col. Leonard, CO of the 116th, was wounded and evacuated in this fight but was returned to duty one month later. The men of the 101st Cavalry had met their baptism of fire and performed like veterans.
On the morning of 16 March the Group, now assigned to XXI Corps, was attached to the 63rd Infantry Division and directed to assemble in the vicinity of Hellimer, France after relief on the Saar River line by the 70th Infantry Division. All units previously attached were detached and one company of the 253rd Infantry, the 93rd AFA Bn. and the Reconnaissance Troop of the 63rd Division were attached. Soon thereafter, all officers and platoon Sergeants of that troop were killed or wounded by a mortar attack. Capt. Edward Bissland, 101st Cavalry liaison officer, was placed in command.
At this time, the 63rd Division was east of the Saar, just south of Saarbrucken, preparing a final assault on the Siegfried Line. The Group was put into the front facing the Siegfried Line between Gudingen and Ensheim and directed to begin aggressive patrolling to probe for weak spots.
The Siegfried Line contained a combination of "Dragon's Teeth," anti‑tank ditches, pill boxes and mine fields. It had‑excellent fields of fire from commanding positions and any daytime movement of our troops was immediately met with small arms, mortar and artillery fire. An order signed by the Fuhrer himself found on a captured German read in part as follows: "Any man who is captured without being wounded or having fought to the last will be disgraced and his family cut off from all support." It appeared from this that the Germans were not about to give up this line easily.
The men of the 101st looked on in awe as the initial assault on the Line was begun by the 253rd Infantry Regiment on our right. Made up into assault teams of infantry engineers, tanks and tank-dozers which closely followed a curtain of fire laid down by smoke and high explosive artillery shells, they methodically worked through the Line section by section blasting "Dragon's Teeth," demolishing pill boxes and filling anti‑tank ditches. The relentless attack continued through the night illuminated by eerie "artificial moonlight" created by bouncing searchlight beams off the low flying clouds. We thanked God that we had not been chosen for this task, and at the same time our admiration for the infantry and engineers increased one‑hundred fold.
By the second day, a narrow breech was made through the Line and the 101st was directed to exploit this breech. At the same time, our patrols reported that German troops were withdrawing on both sides of the break‑through to avoid encirclement. Troop A, 116th Cavalry, reinforced, was selected to make the initial passage through the Line and to seize the town of St. Ingbert four miles to the rear and to block all roads into the area. The remainder of the Group followed with orders to protect the 63rd Division's flanks as it completed break‑through.
This was the first penetration of the Siegfried Line on the Seventh Aimy front and therein lies an interesting anecdote. A Brooklyn war correspondent over did the glorification of a home town unit and wrote a press release for Stars and Stripes headed: "101st Cavalry first to Break Sic ed Line in 7th Army." Upon reading this the commanding General of the 63rd Infantry Division blew his top and immediately wrote a hot letter to Col. McClelland thinking the correspondent had gotten the information from us. This was understandable since his division had lost many good men fighting through the Line. We had passed through after most of the heavy fighting was over. At any rate, "Mac" had to take time out from operational duties to compose an adequately diplomatic reply to the General.
ADVANCE TO THE RHINE BRIDGEHEAD
On 21 March the 101st was relieved from attachment to the 63rd Infantry Division and came under direct control of XXI Corps with orders to assemble near Bitche France. Troop A 101st Squadron, Lt. Robert Ulmschneider Commanding, was placed in detached service with Hq. Sixth Army Group for a special mission.
From this time on the 101st would enter a war of movement and an environment for which lightly equipped but highly mobile Cavalry was designed. The Squadron Commanders elected to organize troops and platoon sized task forces made up of reconnaissance, tank and assault gun elements. Where we were fortunate to have medium tanks or tank destroyers attached they, too, were farmed out to the lower units. The task forces normally operated out of sup porting distance of each other but excellent radio contact provided coordination of movement except when they ended up at night behind German forward elements and had to exercise radio silence.
At this time information from prisoners indicated that the German Army planned to fight a delaying action to the east side of the Rhine River sixty miles away and there make a determined stand. In the meanwhile the rest of XXI Corps had passed through the Siegfried Line and was in pursuit of the Germans. The 101st was ordered to follow along and mop up all resistance in the Corps zone which was then 20 miles wide. This was done against German delaying forces blocking the narrow roads in the beautiful Harz mountains. Abandoned supply dumps, ammunition stores, weapons and hospitals were found and reported to XXI Corps.
The Group Headquarters entered Pirmasens late the night of the 23rd and here at close range saw the devastating effects of allied aerial bombing. The town of perhaps fifty thousand was practically leveled. German families were huddled together wherever they could find shelter. Others wandered in a daze through still smoking rubble Broken water mains spouted water and the smell of death was everywhere. That night the Group found a place to bivouac near a mausoleum and cemetery at the edge of town. In back of the buildings were row upon row of coffins of the unburied dead and within the mausoleum was a large room completely filled with corpses. We were glad to soon move on.
The following day the results of allied air power could be seen again along a mountain road. For well over a mile were at least two hundred dead horses from a German supply column that had been strafed, still harnessed to their wrecked wagons. I for one was not ashamed to feel the same deep sorrow and anguish that I had felt on seeing our dead GIs, and for that matter the young teen age dead German soldiers.
On 28 March, the Group arrived at its first objective line Landau ‑ Neustadt, which abruptly divides the mountains from the flat, fertile valley of the Rhine. At that time XV Corps on the XXI Corps left flank was in process of forcing a crossing of the Rhine at the ancient city of Worms, thirty miles to the north. = Corps was ordered to turn north to this area on the axis Neustadt ‑ Bad Durkhein ‑ Worms. The 101st Cavalry was ordered to protect the Corps line of communications, mop up enemy resistance, control movement of civilian traffic and divert or transport all non‑German POWs (prisoners of war) and DPs (displaced persons) to POW and DP Centers established by the Corps. Considering the size of the Corps zone of advance this was a large order.
After the rapid retreat of the Germans the countryside was filled with hundreds of POWs from every Allied nationality including Americans. Added to these were DPs from every country overrun by the German Army ‑ Poles, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, French, Italians, etc. had been brought to Germany as slave labor and forced to live in DP compounds under miserable conditions. These people had existed by looting after breaking out of the cam;, abandoned by the retreating Germans. This situation continued throughout Germany until the end of the war and for weeks there after. Later on one of our troops "adopted" an Italian cook and soon after war's end Group Hq "inherited" two comely Ukrainian sisters as maids with a strict understanding among us that there would be no "hanky‑panky."
Many small German units were caught as they moved over secondary roads to the west toward the river hoping somehow to get across. During this operation over six hundred German prisoners were taken and many casualties inflicted wherever they had established delaying positions that had to be destroyed. From the actions of the German Army at this point we began to feel that victory was just around the comer, but as later events proved we were in for a rude awakening. On 29 March, the Group passed through other Corps units at Worms and crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge screened by smoke and went into an assembly area at Lampertheim two miles east of the river.
At Lampertheim orders were received to secure the Seventh Army bridgehead line in the Corps Sector thirty miles to the east on a line Eberbach ‑ Mudau ‑ Amorbach. This mission would take us through the steeply wooded slopes and narrow valleys of the beautiful Odenwald Forest legendary in German folklore.
In order to uncover and drive back enemy forces in the forest, the Squadrons broke into a total of six task forces while Group Headquarters itself reinforced with tank and assault gun platoons formed a seventh. In some instances the troops further broke down into platoon size task forces to cover all roads. The extremely rugged terrain forced all columns to operate exclusively in the narrow valleys. This terrain was ideally suited for delaying actions which the Germans used to the utmost by means of road blocks, destroyed bridges, mines and other obstacles. Here for the first time our columns were subjected to strafing by enemy aircraft as the German defense began to slowly tighten up.
The Neckar River ran along the south flank of the XXI Corps zone and the city of Heidelberg, because of its long cultural history, had been declared an "open city" by the Allied and German high commands. This meant it was exempt from shelling and occupation by either side. Heidelberg lay on the south bank of the Neckar, and one of our columns proceeding up the north shore of the river became engaged in an intense fire fight with the defenders of a road block directly across from the city. As one trooper later described it, it was a "weird" feeling to be fighting like mad while across the narrow river hundreds of men, women and children lined the banks and rooftops to watch as though they were seeing a Saturday afternoon sports event!
Our units reached the designated bridgehead line by evening of 30 March. At this point the 101st had moved almost one hundred miles in eight days with varying degrees of opposition. The surprise was yet to come.
BATTLES ALONG THE TAUBER RIVER
Prior to nightfall of 30 March, elements of the 4th Infantry Division relieved the 101st Cavalry, of defending the bridgehead line and it was directed to continue the advance to the line Hochstadt ‑ Neustadt ‑ Rothenberg some fifty‑five miles to the east.
The composition of XXI Corps had changed since leaving the Rhine. The 63rd, 70th and 71st Infantry Divisions had been replaced by the 4th and 42nd Infantry Divisions and the l2th Armored Division. Troop A 101st Cavalry Recon Squadron still remained with Hq. Sixth Army Group.
As the Group approached the valley of the Tauber River the forward elements began to meet ever increasing enemy resistance. Enemy air became more active and here for the first time we were attacked by Luftwaffe jet fighters. Hitler had expected to turn the tide of war with these jets but as a result of Allied bombing of the factories and a shortage of trained pilots they usually reached the battlefields too late and too few. Fortunately for the Allies the untrained pilots usually overshot their targets because of the higher speed of these aircraft. Here also, for the first time, we encountered the famous "Nebelwerfers," which consisted of up to forty‑eight 6.2mm rockets mounted on tanks or trucks, that could be fired simultaneously or in tandem with devastating effect.
By nightfall of 31 March, the 116th Recon Squadron had reached the Tauber River at Tauberbishofsheim on the north; however, the 101st Recon Squadron had been held up by extremely heavy resistance on the south and had gotten only as far as Eubigheim, ten miles from the river.
At first light on Easter Sunday the advance continued but at a much slower pace: however, A Troop of the 116th side slipped the enemy at Tauberbishofsheim and crossed the river. On the south the 101st Recon Squadron was stopped cold at Bad Mergentheim by defenders on the east side of the river. In the center, Group Hq. reinforced with tanks and assault guns attempting to move through Lauda was stopped by heavy fire from the east side of the river.
Here, but for the grace of God and Captain Walter Kohnle, Ass't. S‑3, the entire Group Operations and Intelligence Sections in a half‑track named "Gilhooly" would have been wiped out. The column was held up by fire on the main street and when Captain Kohnle jokingly mentioned that according to the Field Manuals we should disperse the vehicles, we took his advice and backed into a side street. Not more than a minute later we could hear the characteristic "gobble, gobble" of Nebelwerfers as they came down and struck the street exactly where the half track had been. Nothing but a large hole in the street was left! After the German forces were routed from the high around east of the river by tank and assault gun fire the column crossed.
In the past two days the Group had lost two of its young Liaison Officers and one NCO. In two separate incidents, Lts. George Langdon and George Gardner were killed by sniper fire, and in a third incident T‑4 William Kornblum, radio operator with another liaison party, was killed. These men were extremely vulnerable to ambush when they visited units so widely separated in hostile country. As of 1 April, the Group had suffered a total of ninety‑three killed, wounded and missing.
In the last few days of action the Group had determined the contour of a heavily defended MLR (main line of resistance) in the Corps Sector on the line Mergentheim ‑ Osfeld - Zimmern ‑ Grunsfeld on the east side of the Tauber.
The night of I April, the Group was attached to the 4th Infantry, Division and given orders to screen the Division front and south flank as it closed on the river. Most of the Group task forces were already on the designated screening line so there was a temporary respite in the fighting except in the center where Captain Louis Bossert's C Troop of the 116th ran into a hornet's nest at the little town of Osfeld, when it attempted to penetrate the enemy MLR. Entering the outskirts the Troop met small arms, panzerfaust, mortar, and Nebelwerfer fire and was forced to withdraw. A combat team of the 4th Division coming up on the right flank was also turned back. On the following day C Troop again fought its way into Osfeld but was again forced out and the Infantry on its flank could make no progress.
On 4 April, the Commanding General of the 4th Division ordered a coordinated attack all along the line using two combat teams and the 116th Cavalry. C Troop again attacked its nemesis, Osfeld. The attack continued through the 4th, 5th and 6th of April when it was finally successful and the MLR was broken.
On 8 April the Group was attached to the l2th Armored Division and was directed to exploit the breakthrough and conduct a reconnaissance in force to a stop‑line some thirty miles to the southeast. Troop C of the 101st was attached back to the 4th Division leaving the Squadron with only one reconnaissance troop.
ADVANCE TO THE DANUBE
The Germans had not given up the fight by any means and it was now a race to prevent them from establishing another MLR. Practically every one of the dozens of towns in the zone of advance had to be fought for against the stubborn Germans, who frequently counterattacked with tanks and assault guns. Resistance was particularly strong along the lines of the Gollach, the Aisch and the Zinn Rivers.
The thin‑skinned light tanks and armored cars of the 101st Cavalry were completely vulnerable to the tank guns of the Wehrmacht, and the 37mm guns on our vehicles could not penetrate the thick plate on them. However, our fast moving Cavalry forces out ahead would locate the enemy and, if they could, overcome the resistance. If not, the heavier and more powerful 12th Armored Division Combat Commands' medium tanks and armored infantry would be called up to do the job.
On the night of 17 April, advance units of the Group had closed on the Zinn River in the vicinity of Trautskirchen. Since the fighting around Osfeld, these pitched battles had continued day and night over a zone twenty miles wide and over thirty‑five miles long. Troopers who were there will long remember such towns as Gulchheim, Baldersheim, Uffenheim, Gelchheim, Aub and Burgeroth where some of the sharpest fighting took place.
It became standard procedure when entering each town to summon the Burgermeister and have him direct all citizens to turn in their weapons and cameras for confiscation. If the unit was to remain overnight, the Burgermeister was told to arrange for billets in private homes, gasthauses, chateaus or whatever was available. The Group's interpreter, a German‑speaking sergeant, was eventually wounded and evacuated, so that it became difficult to transmit instructions to local officials. On one occasion, the Catholic Chaplain, Father Powers, was called upon to converse in Latin with the local German padre.
The reaction of the German people varied considerably from a sullen attitude to one of friendliness (whether genuine or not). Rarely was there outright belligerence. Most were glad that the Americans and not the Russians had come. No one would admit to being a Nazi although it was well‑known that all the cities and towns were run by them.
For some time we had been witnessing the disintegration of not only the Wehrmacht but of an entire nation as the Allies closed in on the German heartland from both directions. Hitler's divisions, with few exceptions, were down to less than one‑third strength. Added to their ranks had been thousands of school‑age young boys and old men unfit for battle. Factories had been destroyed and supply lines repeatedly cut. Many of us held a grudging respect for the way they continued to resist with as much skill as they did. It was apparent, however, that they were losing their will to resist with the exception of Hitler's own SS Troops, who continued to fight fanatically.
By now all Germans must have realized that the war was lost except for Adolph Hitler who still had dreams of glory for him self and his country. Information had been developing from Allied Intelligence Services that he was planning to build up a fortress of final resistance high in the Bavarian Alps. There he would hold off the Allied armies until he could come to favorable terms with Eisenhower and the Russians. This fortress was referred to as the "National Redoubt." To meet this contingency XXI Corps was directed to move forces as rapidly as possible into the Alps to prevent the buildup. Consequently early the morning of 18 April Hq. 12th Armored Division ordered a change in the direction of advance from southeast to the southwest ‑ a change of ninety degrees. The new axis of advance was to be Ansbach ‑Fechtwangen ‑ Crailsheim.
In the meanwhile, the composition of the Group was changed. The 101st Recon Squadron was attached to the 4th Infantry Division and the 92nd Recon Squadron of the 12th Armored Division was attached to the Group. The 342nd AFA Battalion was also attached.
At 0700, 18 April, CCA followed by CCB of the 12th Armored moved southwest on the new axis, while the 101st Cavalry moved parallel to them to protect the open southeast flank of the column. Although enemy resistance had weakened in the past two days this new mission did not turn out to be a "piece of cake." It was obvious that the Germans were engaged in a delaying action but they were not giving up ground without a stubborn fight. The 92nd Recon Squadron immediately ran into one strongly held road block after another. Troop A of the 116th Recon Squadron followed by Troop C moving parallel to the 92nd on its south flank got as far as Wolframs, ‑ Eschenbach and ran into a determined fight for the town. Troop C bypassed that town and attacked Merkendorf one‑half mile down the road and after a prolonged fight entered the town driving elements of the SS 17th Panzer Grenadier Division to the southwest where it dug in a short distance away.
Before daylight on 19 April, the SS Troops counterattacked C Troop which had the First Platoon of F Troop and Third Platoon of E Troop attached. The attack came from three directions overwhelming the outposts and entering the town. Captain Bossert's after‑action report best portrays what happened:
"The troop CP was attacked by panzerfaust fire and four SS Troopers were killed as they attempted to enter the windows. Under the circumstances, organization for battle was impossible. For over two hours a series of bloody hand to hand battles were fought throughout the town. Attackers were repelled by small arms, knives and furniture thrown from the windows. At daylight enemy reinforcements were seen approaching from the west. Machine gun and small arms fire was brought to bear upon the attack which was broken up before it reached the town. By this time the situation in town was under control. Eighty SS Troopers were killed, sixteen captured and an undetermined number were wounded. Troop C and attached units suffered (only) nineteen casualties!"
For this action, the action at Osfeld and others, C Troop was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
After two months of hard, successful fighting with surprisingly few casualties, the long arduous training back in the United States was paying off one‑hundred fold. The men of the 101st were fighting with the skill of hardened veterans; furthermore, the commanders from the "Old Man" on down were using excellent judgment in successfully accomplishing their assigned missions without needlessly losing men. The type of scattered, small unit actions we were engaged in continually tested the leadership of officers and non‑coms at all levels of command.
The night of 18‑19 April, XXI Corps again changed the direction of the l2th Armored Division attack to due south from the town of Feuchtwangen. At the same time the 101st Recon Squadron reverted to Group control from attachment to the 4th Infantry Division. The Group was relieved of its blocking mission and directed to reconnoiter south in front of the Combat Commands. The resistance was becoming extremely "spotty." In some places roadblocks were left undefended while in others delaying positions were defended with the utmost determination usually by SS Troops.
Troop C of the 101st Recon Squadron operating on the right flank ran into trouble at the small town of Schoffloch and could not break through. The medium tanks and Armored Infantry of CCA were brought up and overran the enemy defense. Soon thereafter the Squadron was unable to penetrate the defenses at Wildenstein, however, C Troop side slipped the town and came up on the German rear. Lt. Col. Kendall formed Task Force Brock (Maj. Henry Brock, Sq. Ex. 0) consisting of his B Troop and B Troop of the 116th drawn from Group reserve. After a prolonged three‑hour attack coming from both directions the resistance was broken.
By now forward units of the l2th Armored and the 101st were approximately sixty miles from the. Danube River. It had become clear from Intelligence sources that the German plan was to leave strong delaying forces north of the river while building up well placed defensive positions south of it with the main forces. It was anticipated that the bridges over the river would be prepared for demolition and under the circumstances speed was of the essence. If resistance held up the advance it would be bypassed where possible.
At 2300, 21 April the Division ordered an advance on a broad front to secure the bridges in its area of operations. CCA was directed to secure bridges in the Dillingen area, CCB the bridges at Hockstadt and the 101st Recon Squadron was assigned the bridges in the vicinity of Lauingen and Tapfheim. The Group Commander ordered the 92nd to capture bridges in the vicinity of Erlingshoffen while the 116th was assigned the mission of mopping up bypassed Germans.
The 101st Recon Squadron moved early 22 April, made a hold night march and with the assistance of CCR cleared the town of Laucheim and continued on only to have the two bridges at Lauingen destroyed minutes before it arrived. The 92nd moved before dawn on the 23rd, and as its forward units drew closer to the river the German rear guard fought them off until their main forces had crossed the river. The blasts of the bridge being blown at Erlinghoffen could be heard two miles away. In the meanwhile CCA entered Dillingen and with complete surprise captured the main bridge intact while at the same time the 101 Recon Squadron fought off a strong German counterattack in the vicinity of Lauingen on the Division s right flank.
FROM THE DANUBE TO THE ALPS
After searching for additional crossings over the Danube in con junction with CCB and CCR, the 101st was directed to move south, seize the bridges across the Mindel River five mil away and continue a reconnaissance in force to the southeast. On 24 April, the 92nd Recon Squadron headed for Burgau, where the Frankfurt ‑ Salzburg autobahn crosses the Mindel, and seized the bridges there. A strong counterattack was held off the night of 25 April.
116th coming up parallel to the 92nd also hit resistance near the autobahn and at the same time made a remarkable discovery. Hidden in a large, wooded area were several hundred jet aircraft in various stages of completion! They had undoubtedly been moved from aircraft factories in the vicinity of Munich to avoid Allied bombing.
The 101st Recon Squadron moving to the left of the 116th encountered dug‑in enemy defenses supported by the dreaded 88mm AA guns used effectively as AT guns. At the same time the 63rd Infantry Division on the right flank of the 12th Armored Division was fighting off a day‑long German counterattack. It was apparent that the Germans were building up another main line of resistance along the general line of the autobahn.
The afternoon of 26 April, an event of considerable importance occurred. An officer courier from the l7th SS Corps was intercepted with classified documents and a marked map showing the German dispositions and plans for a coordinated counterattack to be made by three divisions. This map was brought to Group Head quarters where it was noticed that the Corps' left boundary along the Mindel River was not clearly defined. On a chance that this boundary might not be strongly defended, the 92nd was directed to make its main effort down the river valley. This hunch paid off when the 92nd broke through with relative ease. The 116th followed the 92nd and soon both Squadrons were operating in the rear of the German defense. With direct pressure from the 101st Recon Squadron on the left, the enemy defenses in the l2th Armored Division zone‑of‑attack soon collapsed. (This entire maneuver was later used by the Tactics Division of the Armored School, Fort Knox, as a classic example of Cavalry action.)
There was still to be no respite in the fighting when on 26 April, Col. McClelland ordered the 92nd to proceed without delay to seize bridges over the Wertach River 20 miles to the south at Hiltenfingen and the 101st to seize those in the vicinity of Gross Aitingen. The 116th was to follow the 92nd.
The 92nd moved against light enemy defenses and soon captured the bridge at Hiltenfingen while the 116th moved through and secured the approaches from the south. The 101st was forced to fight all the way but finally captured the bridge at Gross Aitengen. While the 101st was fighting off counterattacks the 92nd and 116th were ordered to continue on to the Lech River ten miles to the south east and capture the bridges in the vicinity of Landsberg. Both squadrons reached the Lech in record time, only to have all bridges along the river blown up in their faces. The three‑ squadrons spent the remainder of 1.7 April, reconnoitering the river for crossing sites and reporting those destroyed bridges which could be most easily repaired.
During the wet, cold weather of late winter and spring most of our troopers could find some kind of cover at night ‑ commandeered private homes, farm houses barns, gasthauses, and even schlosses (castles). Only recently Col. McClelland reminded me of an interesting experience in this regard. The Group Headquarters moved into Hiltenfingen about 1 a.m. the night of 27 April. The search for quarters resulted in a particularly unsavory gasthaus for the staff. Col. McClelland was awakened before dawn by Major Leo Nawn, Group S‑2 to read message from 12th Armored Division, and when doing so asked the Colonel who his roommate was. Unbeknownst to "Mac" a dead German was under his bed.
The orders that came in indicated the assembly of large concentrations of German troops in the general area of Munich, 20 miles to the northeast. The Division was directed to cross the Lech that same morning, seize and hold Wertheim, Penzburg and Bad Tolz to the south and block passes into the Bavarian Alps. The Group was directed to have one Squadron move in advance of CCA to capture the above towns and the Group was directed to screen the long, exposed left flank of the Division as it bypassed Munich. This maneuver was undoubtedly intended to prevent the Germans from reinforcing Hitler's dreamed of "National Redoubt" with forces assembling near Munich.
The 12th Armored Engineers worked feverishly all night to repair a railroad bridge at Landsberg as the only feasible crossing site. The Group was ordered to make the initial crossing and accordingly headed for the bridge as rapidly as possible. Before reaching it many of us got the shock of our lives.
In the early dawn wraith‑like figures could be seen wandering aimlessly along the roads and through the fields. They turned out to be hollow‑eyed, living skeletons wearing striped pajamalike garments hanging from their protruding bones. Up ahead heavy, dark smoke arose above a tree line and behind it we came upon one of Hitler's notorious concentration camps. Inside was pure horror.
Upon learning of the approach of American troops, the prisoners had broken through the barbed wire, killed the German guards and were in the process of looting and looking for food in the nearby countryside. The gas chambers and burning ovens were still filled with bodies. Dead and dying prisoners and guards alike lay strewn throughout the compound. Two miles farther on was a stalled railroad train with a string of cattle cars filled with dead prisoners. Evidence indicated that they had been machine gunned down while in the cars. No one will ever know why the fiends were trying to move these poor wretches only to kill them somewhere else. Memories of those sights will never be forgotten by anyone who saw them.
At 0600, 28 April units of the Group began crossing the railroad bridge at Landsberg. The Division began crossing in the afternoon with CCA leading. The use of only one bridge demanded that units cross on a tight time schedule. Group Headquarters and Headquarters Troop spent an embarrassing fifteen minutes stalled on the bridge by one of the "liberated” German vehicles breaking down in the middle. It finally had to be towed across the bridge by a tank.
Upon crossing the Lech without stopping, the Squadrons fanned out and streamed to the southwest on their newly assigned missions. The 116th followed by CCA headed for Weilheim and Bad Tolz. The 101st followed by the 92nd aimed for the bridges to the north of Ammer See and Wurm See. The rat race was on again!
The 116th got as far as Rott halfway to Weilheim before it was stopped by defenders inside that walled town. After an intense battle, B Troop was left to maintain contact with the enemy while A and C Troops bypassed during the night. By morning of 29 April, they had captured the bridges over the Amper River at the foot of Ammer See vicinity of Diesson. By noon B Troop broke through the defenses at Rott and cleared Weilheim, followed by CCA one‑half hour later.
The 101st Recon Squadron came within a few miles of its first objective, the bridge across the Amper River just north of Ammer See, only to be stopped by demolitions all along the only access road. Ibis required a wide detour to the south but within a few miles the leading task force was again stopped by an attacking force of Infantry, supported by several Tiger tanks equipped with 88mm guns. The resulting battle ended when the Squadron supported by fire from the 342nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion forced the Germans to withdraw. The Artillery Battalion C.O. had long since given up attempting to cover the entire front of the far ranging and fast moving 101st Cavalry column from one position. Accordingly he had farmed out his three batteries to the three Squadrons.
After this fight the Squadron turned north again and got in a position to prevent the Germans him repairing and crossing the partially destroyed bridge at the north end of Ammer See. In the meanwhile the 116th had been given a new mission to precede CCA, move through the mountain passes in the Alps, and capture Innsbruck some seventy miles to the south. The 101st was directed to move to the south end of Ammer See to take over the 116th blocking mission while the 92nd moved up from reserve to take over the mission of the 101st. Somewhat like a game of musical chairs!
In the midst of all this movement, in the afternoon of 29 April, two representatives of an anti‑Nazi group in Munich appeared at the Group CP in Diessen and reported that Nazi authority in the city had been overthrown. They requested that American troops enter it right away to restore order. They promised that there would be no German resistance, accordingly Col. McClelland ordered the 101st Recon Squadron to move into Munich. Half way there, however, the Squadron was met with withering fire from Ober‑Seefeld while a strong enemy force could be seen attempting to outflank it. It was apparent that the information about taking Munich without opposition was false. At the same time XXI Corps advised the Group to stay out of Munich since General Milburn, Corps Commander, had "promised" the city to General "Iron Pants" O'Daniel, one of his division Commanders. Accordingly the mission was canceled. Lt. Col. Kendall, Squadron C.O., stated later that he was mighty glad he didn't have to try to capture a city of over one million people with his eight hundred men.
Jack Langridge, Group Operations Sergeant, while posting the situation map the night of 30 April, showing our units and those of the Germans going in all directions, remarked that it looked like the "damndest can of worms" he had ever seen. And it was just that. The German Army was in a state of complete disorganization with some units fighting to get into the Alps, while others were fighting desperately to prevent us from doing the same. They were without sufficient supplies and ammunition and had little or no communications left. One captured German staff officer told us that the only way they knew where their forward units were was to intercept our messages reporting enemy contacts. By that time most of our messages were being sent in the clear because things were moving so fast there was little time to encode and decode them.
During operations through the month of April the original units of the 101st Cavalry Group had suffered one hundred and twenty‑ six casualties and had taken the amazing total of over seventeen thousand prisoners. Ibis large number presented a problem in itself to the Group. It could no longer provide escorts to take them to the rear, but could merely direct them to the nearest Corps or Division collecting points. It is a conservative estimate that the Germans were losing at least thirty killed and wounded to our one. Why in God's name did the madman in his bunker in Berlin let the slaughter of his own people continue?
Now German defenses had lost all coordination, but here and there enough isolated SS units continued the stubborn defense of road blocks and strong points to make life still uncertain for the men in the lead cavalry attachments. Hour after hour, day after day they had to overcome a special type of fear‑‑fear of the unknown. Where, when and how they would next be met by enemy fire. From machine guns behind the next knoll, hill or river line? Or from Panzerfaust rockets fired from the next farmhouse or clump of woods? Would a deadly 88 pick off the lead vehicle from a village wall a thousand yards away or would they be caught in a crossfire as they entered the next defile. What was around the next bend in the road and when would they be blown to bits by an AT mine. These men deserve great credit.
Now as the column pressed on the best way the Germans had of delaying the more than a few hours was to destroy the many bridges along the routes. This required the advance detachments to call up and wait for engineers with bridging equipment repair them.
After the fighting around Ammer See the next obstacle to be surmounted was the Loisach River eight miles to the east. In order to cross it the Group had to make a long detour to the north, cross into the zone of the 4th Infantry Division and use a bridge repaired by engineers at Wolfratshausen. Within seven more miles there was another delay while a bridge over the Isar River south of Bad Tolz was repaired by engineers of the 16th Infantry Division.
From 1 May to 4 May, the direction and nature of the Group's advance changed several times‑‑advancing in front of the 12th armored Division, protecting its flanks, patrolling, and attempting to seize bridges. The 101st Recon Squadron was again attached to the 4th Division where it was engaged in route reconnaissance and screening missions. The remainder of the Group continued east and after A Troop of the 116th seized the only intact bridge over the Inn River vicinity of Rosenheim, crossed the river behind it.
On 4 May, the Group was detached from l2th Armored Division and reverted to XXI Corps control. At the same time the 92nd Recon Squadron reverted back to its parent unit, the l2th Armored. In our thirty days with the division we had worked together as a close‑knit team. Most of its senior officers had been cavalrymen and knew its capabilities and how to use it. In turn we were reluctant to see the 92nd under Lt. Col. Sherburne Whipple leave us. They had become as one of our own.
XXI Corps directed the remainder of the Group, now with only the 116th and the 342nd AFA Battalions to proceed east via the Munich‑Salzburg autobahn, contact 2nd French Armored Division and then turn south into the mountain passes of the Alps along the Austrian border.
It appeared that der Fuhrer would not surrender until every inch of German soil was occupied. That was what we were obligingly trying to do for him as fast as possible. It also seemed that his dream of a National Redoubt was just that.
The advance down the autobahn will be long remembered. It would seem that the entire Seventh Army was going east hell‑bent‑for‑ election down both east and westbound lanes, while a continuous stream of German prisoners trudged west down the medial strip. Now they were no longer surrendering as individuals but by entire units.
After three months of constant movement our column had taken on a less military but much more interesting appearance. DPs of all nationalities often hitched rides atop the vehicles. Now and then a black top hat or a spiked old type German helmet appeared from a tank or armored car turret, adding a touch of GI humor. Various types of captured German vehicles were scattered along the column. For a while one troop had adopted a life‑sized female manikin wearing nothing but a fancy ladies hat as she rode jauntily along in a Jeep. Another outfit had liberated a warehouse full of white sheepskin coats intended for Luftwaffe pilots.
These they wore with pride and comfort. Now and then a box looking suspiciously like a case of champagne or cognac was seen tied to the back of a vehicle. All the men and vehicles were the color of mud or dust depending on the weather.
Nevertheless, the cavalry columns appeared as though they had just come off the drill field compared to the sight we saw soon after reaching the autobahn when the entire 2nd French Armored Division came barreling along. It had been equipped by the U.S. Army with enough equipment for a normal armored division but they had commandeered, wangled and liberated enough French, British, German and U.S. vehicles to provide for a division twice that size. They traveled in a variety of uniforms and with great el'an accompanied by the women of their choice who waved happily from the trucks they rode in. However, the payoff was that they were a real fighting outfit, eager to make "la Boche" pay for the four year occupation of France.
THE LAST DAYS OF THE WAR
In a message dated 0700 4 May, while still on the autobahn, the Group received a XXI Corps message through 12th Armored Division which read as follows:
"General Kesselring expected to surrender forces tonight tomorrow in the event he or his emissaries contact oar units they will be conducted by fastest available means to CP 503 Inf. in Munich at eight one seven five eight zero (map coordinates). Notify this Hq."
The long expected news had arrived (we thought)!
Soon after reaching Obersiegsdorf the Group left the autobahn and turned south along the Traun River corridor leading directly into the Alps. "A" Troop of the 116th led the advance but still against stubborn SS resistance. By nightfall 4 May, the troop had gotten as far as Seehaus but there it was stopped cold by a blown bridge and SS troops heavily defending roadblocks. We had been unfortunate in having to face the mainstay of SS forces on the Seventh Army Front‑‑the 13th SS Corps, commanded by SS General Max Simon, all the way from the Rhine River.
The morning of 5 May, the Group was attached to 101st Airborne Division, General Maxwell Taylor Commanding, and at the same time the 101st Recon Squadron reverted back to the Group. At that +time the 116th had reached Seegatierl and Marquartstein in the Traun River Valley and elements of the 101st Recon Squadron were located in Kossen and Koppel in the Grosse Ache River corridor. The Group CP was located at Rupholding in the next valley west of Hitler's famous "Eagle’s Nest" at Berchesgaden. There the following message was received:
“German Army this sector has surrendered. All units remain in place."
This clinched it, the war was really over!
Hitler had never surrendered, but had left this humiliating job up to his generals. Early the morning of 30 April, in Berlin lie had placed a pistol in his mouth and blown his brains out.
Since the German command was out of communications with many of its forward units some of them continued to fight on. Realizing this 101st Airborne Division issued instructions that all U.S. units would send out parties to inform German commanders of the surrender, advise them of the terms and designate assembly areas for their troops. Our units were then to garrison all large towns and establish Military Government. Accordingly the two squadrons and the 342nd AFA Battalion were assigned areas of responsibility for a total of approximately three hundred square miles.
In the meanwhile, in the vicinity of Marqartstein, an emissary from the l3th SS Corps was met by the 101st Recon Squadron with a message stating that the SS under Obergrupenfuhrer SS General Gottlieb Berger was not bound by the surrender of General Kesselring's Army Group "G”. He was therefore contacted and escorted to General Taylor at the CP of 101st Airborne Division. There he finally accepted the same terms as Army Croup "G". These terms were "unconditional." Now the damn war was over for sure Li the entire Seventh Army Sector!
The work of disarming the Germans and attempting to establish Military Government in the areas just conquered was begun. As can he imagined the entire country was in complete chaos particularly in the larger towns where Allied bombing and shelling had destroyed transportation and all other public utilities. Most of the Nazi officials and technicians who had governed and operated these towns had either fled or gone underground for fear of arrest. There were shortages of food and other necessities. Looting was rampant—not only by Germans but by Allied troops as well.
The days following the surrender became a time of celebrity hunting. Many of the German officials had sought refuge in the Bavarian Alps which could give some credence to the idea of the National Redoubt. Allied units seemed to be competing to see which ones could round up the most of these people.
Based on information that Marshals Goering and Kesselring might be somewhere south of the 101st Cavalry zone of operations it was directed that a unit be dispatched to locate them. Major Edward French, Ex O of the 116th with one platoon of A Troop, Staff Sergeant Schnalzer in command, was given the mission.
Extracts of Major French’s after action report telling of his remarkable adventures on this mission are included in Annex A. It indicates the excellent judgment and diplomacy of this young and relatively junior officer exercised in dealing with Swiss, German and Japanese officials, a Hungarian Baroness, a Count and Senior U.S. Army officers.
On 9 May, the 101st Cavalry Group was directed to move farther south into the Alps to control the movement of thousands of prisoners to the various holding areas established by XXI Corps. It also supervised stockpiling of German vehicles, weapons, ammunition and supplies. At Kossen, Group Headquarters had the unique experience of living in the same small town as the Headquarters of the 13th SS Corps. It was not a love feast by any means but many of us had an opportunity to converse and compare notes with some of the SS staff officers. It was here that the 342nd AFA Battalion and an overworked platoon of the 19th Engineers were detached from the Group. These units had become smooth working elements of the combined arms team of the mechanized cavalry, artillery and engineers and as with the 92nd Recon Squadron we were sorry to see them go.
On 10 May, Headquarters and other elements of the Group moved to Saalfelden, Austria and while there, established security around the luxurious train occupied by General Kesselring and his entourage during the last days of the war. Major Leo Nawn, was placed on the train itself as our liaison. Whether it was because the General himself had been evacuated the day before or because the war was over, that night the occupants threw a wild champagne party complete with German WACs and other ladies. Leo was invited to join in the fun and was even offered female companionship which, like a well mannered U.S. Cavalryman, he declined. At least that is what he reported.
As the war wound down it is well to say something of the men who did so much and were heard of so little. Writers, historians, photographers and newsmen record and glorify the front line fighting men and their commanders but are prone to neglect those who made it possible for them to fight successfully. These are the people of the medical, supply, communications, maintenance and ordnance elements who kept the fighting machine oiled and running. With the lines of supply extended from the French and Belgian ports to the battle lines deep in Germany it was a back-breaking, twenty-four-hour-a-day job to keep the ammunition supplied, the men fed, the wounded evacuated, and the weapons and vehicles in good repair. Our squadron supply and maintenance elements were extremely vulnerable to ambush as they shuttled back and forth from supply points, ammunition depots and POL points to the forward nits. It is right and proper that these men as well as those who fired the weapons be given the full credit for what they did.
On 1‑2 May, the 101st Cavalry left the scene of its final combat operations and was relieved of assignment to 101st Airborne Division, with orders to take up occupation duty in the Odenwald Forest‑‑a familiar area. The Group CP was initially set up at Erbach in the center of the beautiful forest but soon moved farther west to Jugenheim. At the edge of the Rhine River Here the troops settled in for an uneasy stay‑‑no one knew for how long. The thought that hung like a cloud over most of us was the prospect of deployment to the Pacific Theater. Some organizations were already being sent there.
Our one Military Government trained officer, Major E. L. Harris, had worked like a Trojan as we passed through dozens of towns but obviously could not handle the large area of the Odenwald. Fortunately, a small Military Government detachment soon arrived to set up shop. This detachment provided experts in government and public utilities but the job of carrying out the many tasks rested with our troopers. Occupation regulations were posted and enforced. Travel was restricted and shortages of food and vital equipment had to be rectified. More important was the search for Germans who were capable of reestablishing a working government. General Eisenhower had decreed that no Nazis would be permitted back into government Jobs and this made the task more difficult. It will be recalled that General George Patton was relieved of command of the Third U.S. Army because he considered the restoration of control to their own government a first priority and continued to recruit the most capable Germans‑‑ Nazi or not‑‑ to do the job. (The other reason Patton was relieved is said to be because he continued to sound off about the Russians and was all for continuing on to Moscow!)
The strict policy of non‑fraternization established by the U.S. Army with the Germans, particularly with the plentiful, friendly young frauleins, was understood but was certainly unpopular. As time went on this policy began to come apart at the seams with the help of cigarettes, candy and other gifts.
Almost immediately after the surrender, discipline in the U.S. Army began to deteriorate badly and a ground swell of resentment began to grow because the men were not being sent home quickly enough. In June and July, almost daily demonstrations occurred in Frankfurt fifty miles to our north. The G.I.s didn't seem to realize that there were not enough ships and planes to get them all home at once since shipping priority was being given to the defeat of Japan. To the great credit of the 101st Cavalrymen they continued to retain their morale and discipline.
Soon, the worst fear of the men became a reality. Both squadrons were alerted at different times for movement to the Pacific Theater of Operations. My sources are not clear as to the exact dates they left Germany but it was during late July or in August. They were directed to first go to Camp Campbell, Kentucky to prepare for redeployment to the Pacific but either while there or enroute orders were They ‑‑re both saved by the bell when
Hiroshima was bombed, followed by the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945. The squadrons were deactivated at Camp Campbell instead and each man was sent to the station nearest to his home for discharge. Others of us had been sent home from Germany individually in early August.
Group Headquarters and Headquarters Troop did not leave Germany until later. On 10 October, it moved to Camp Heebert, Tarrington, France thence to Le Havre for embarkation to Boston and from there to Camp Miles Standish, Mass. There the unit was deactivated on 30 October 1945. Col. McClelland had been reassigned to Headquarters Seventh Army in Heidelberg, and was the last member of the Group to leave Germany. He recalls standing on a sidewalk in Jugenheim, waving as the last units pulled out. "Mac" had been an aggressive, hard‑driving officer who kept continuous pressure on the Germans throughout the campaign. On the fast‑moving, ever‑changing battle front his decisions were quickly made and seldom if ever wrong. The 101st Cavalry could not have had a better war‑time leader.
Thus ends the story of the 101st Cavalry's preparation for and tour of Europe, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Those of us there will long remember the Glory Road we followed and the common cause that bonded us together. But we are prone to forget the long hard work to get ready and then the chaos, the uncertainty, and fear on the battlefield with death always just around the comer. And we must never cease to pay tribute to our fellow troopers who left us in that foreign land to make the long journey to "Fiddler's Green" the last resting place of all U.S. Cavalrymen young and old. Perhaps sometime we will all meet there again. If this should happen, and God willing it will, may we also meet those faithful horses we once rode when we were proud and feisty young cavalrymen.