134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
By Major General Butler B. Miltonberger, Former Commanding Officer, 134th Infantry Regiment
and Major James A. Huston, Assistant Professor of History, Purdue University
Transcribed by Roberta V. Russo, Palatine, Illinois
In Nancy; wild, happy throngs greet their liberators.
With his main forces trapped and broken in Normandy, the enemy had no means of checking the Third Army drive, the brilliant rapidity of which was perhaps the most spectacular ever seen in modern mobile warfare. The three corps, each spearheaded by an armored division, raced headlong toward Paris and the Seine with an impetus and spirit characteristic of their leader, at once guarding the flank of the armies to the north and seeking fresh objectives of their own.
- General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Report of the Supreme Commander
As members of the 134th Infantry once again mounted trucks to become a part of the rapidly moving columns of the Third Army, there was reason to believe that there would be no turning back this time. Even as the Regiment had fought against the German threat at Mortain, spearheads of General Pattons Army had continued their divergent paths - across Brittany to the west, east toward Paris, north, and even northwest, to Argentan. Concurrently, these operations had been aimed at sealing off the German Seventh Army in the Falaise-Argentan pocket and in continuing the relentless drives toward the Brittany ports on the one hand, and the heart of France on the other.
Now, as the 134th Infantry began its move to the southeast at 0425 that August 14, the Battle of the Falaise-Argentan raged on, but no longer was the central issue that of saving the supply corridor of the Third Army; it had been turned to the question of how much of the German Seventh Army Von Kluge would be able to extricate from that precarious position.
In such circumstances, officers and men of the 134th Infantry could enjoy a freedom from immediate concern and an absence of threatening peril to a measure not know since the landing of Normandy. It was the kind of situation which could not but boost morale to new heights. Here the most attractive conditions for boosting the morale of the infantryman all were present at the same time: he was riding rather than walking; he was moving rapidly forward, which would imply to him large scale victories; he was out of contact with the enemy - there was no shooting, machine gun, mortar, or "88," to bother him.
Throughout the warm, sunny day the motor column of the 134th Infantry moved on. The industrial capacity of America was making its superiority felt through the means which had made it most noted - automotive power. The German Army had won headlines in 1939 and 1940 for its spectacular use of mechanized and motorized forces; but the German motorization (the exact extent of which is now known to have been considerably overestimated) was nothing to be compared with that which now threatened its destruction. The Germans still were using horses for company and platoon transportation in their infantry companies as well as for moving much of their artillery. In this modern American Army in Europe, on the contrary, horses were unknown. Here was one of the decisive advantages of the American forces; their superior mobility power. The continuing mobility of the Third Army was to be a source of unending amazement for its German enemy. The jeeps - the diminutive, but sturdy, quarter-ton also, referred to as the "beep" or "peep" - used for reconnaissance and command; the three-quarter ton trucks, used for maintenance or communication; the 1 1/2-ton trucks, towing 57 mm anti-tank guns or carrying pioneer equipment; the 2 1/2-ton trucks, carrying kitchen equipment and supplies - the organic transportation of the Regiment was moving in company with 2 1/2-ton trucks, personnel carriers, from an Army Quartermaster trucking company, as the column moved through LeMans to the east.
The trip was a refreshing one. It was refreshing because instead of ghost towns of ruined bare walls, there were towns humming with activity; for the first time men saw French shops open for business. It was refreshing because attractive farms replaced the squalor and death that had been Normandy, and in these farms the feeling sprang that, in spite of war, people in this area were not going hungry. The trip was like a triumphal procession the whole way; enthusiastic people lined the streets at every village, and often in between; they called, waved, tossed fruit and flowers; a minutes delay of a vehicle would bring cheering crowds surging around it, and cider and wine - and even champagne - would begin to flow; and children would crowd the streets crying "cigarette for papa" . . . "chocolate, chocolate". . . and they would scramble for the caramel candy or lemon powder from a K ration . . . "ou, la la!" Men could even begin to speculate on the relative merits of French and English women. It was a new war.
Some 10 or 11 minutes beyond LeMans - always remembered by the soldiers of the 134th for its sidewalk cafes and thronging citizenry - the Regiment went into bivouac between 1800 and 2000 hours. The days movement had been of a kind completely foreign thus far to the 134th Infantry in France. Where a days advance had been measured in terms of two or three hedgerows, now they had moved farther in one day than in three weeks in Normandy. If this was the nature of open warfare, they were all for it. They awaited anxiously for news of the leading elements of the XII Corps. (Composed of the 35th and 80th Infantry Divisions and the 4th Armored Division, the XII Corps was commanded by Major General Manton S. Eddy.)
This news, when it came, was to the effect that a task force under Brig. Gen. Sebree, made up of the 137th Infantry, the 737th Tank Battalion and Combat Command A of the 4th Armored Division - and other special troops - was on the way to Orleans.
The rapid occupation of that historic old city called for a new 70-mile move to the east on the part of the 134th Infantry - now Corps reserve - on August 16. Transportation was available only for the 1st Battalion and regimental headquarters and special units, and when those units moved out at 1400, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions remained behind for a second day of rest while rumors of the spectacular advances and the impending fall of Paris continued to fly.
The Regiment collected at Semerville - 20 miles west of Orleans; with the closing in of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions at 0730 on August 17, there was another days pause to await developments. And sunny France was at her best. Here was an opportunity for officers and men to become more familiar with their units, to perfect their tactical organization, to discuss lessons to be found thus far in the experience of combat. Perhaps it was a little depressing to the buoyant spirits of the individual soldier to be asked to concentrate his thoughts on such perils as he had so recently escaped; but no responsible leader was taking the new turn in the nature of the war as meaning the end of vigorous combat. Optimism was bounding; there is no question about that but the battalions and the companies were seeking to preserve a psychological preparedness based on the assumption that plenty of work remained to be done. Yet, even a few hours training schedule was such a welcome change from unending combat of Normandy that officers and men alike greeted it enthusiastically. "Care and cleaning of equipment" was a far cry from continuous renewal of attack among hedgerows.
Even the hedgerows were no more in the open country of central France. Here great fields, which only a few weeks earlier had yielded their important crops of wheat, would rival those to be found in the American Middle West. If there were such a thing as "tank country" - (General Patton had said, "There is no such thing as tank country in the restrictive sense. Some types of country are better than others, but tanks have and can operate anywhere.") if there is such a thing as "tank country" in the non-restrictive sense, then this appeared to be it.
Every effort was being made in this move to keep the soldiers informed of the events in which he was participating, and of actions on other fronts and in other theaters, and of news from the homeland. Stars and Stripes, the Army daily newspaper arrived with a high degree of regularity, battalion and regimental radios were able to pick up newscasts of the BBC (and of the Armed Forces Network, presently), and there were bulletins and maps sometimes available from the Information and Education Division. During this day among the groves of Central France, each unit was giving a portion of its training time to this subject of "orientation." The news as far as the "big picture" was concerned had been good most of the time since D-day. But now it was especially good. In recounting the news of the previous 24 hours, orientation officers described the battle which still raged in the Falaise Argentan pocket a "massacre"; . . . The Air Corps was having a field day in working over some 3,000 vehicles; . . . there were reports of friction between SS and Wermacht troops; . . . the new Allied landings in southern France were moving rapidly, and already, within two days time, troops of the American Seventh and the French First Armies had extended the beach-head inland 25 miles and held an 80-mile front . . .on Germanys other exposure the Russians had entered East Prussia . . .
Battalion intelligence officers undertook some road reconnaissance while the Regiment awaited orders for the next move. One report, for example referred to roads and distances to villages in the vicinity: bivouac to Verdes, 1.7 miles; Verdes to Membrolles narrow, but good crushed stone road 3 miles; Membrolles to Villampuy, (Juvrainville to Villampuy, narrow blacktop), 4.9 miles 35th Rcn states enemy pulled out Patay 0400, 35th into Patay, 1100; Villampuy to water tower, .4 mile Highway 155, first class blacktop; water to Turnoisis, 7.3 miles; Turnoisis to Patay, 4.3 miles civilians report Boche pulled out of Patay 2000 report three vehicles, two German and one American, passed through Gaubert this morning en route to Chatres; old man, speaking English, accused of being "Gestapo."
Regimental liaison officers were making more distant reconnaissance to the north and the east in order to contact the 137th and the 320th Infantry, and in order to obtain information on the possible routes for the next move.
The relative military inactivity of the moment permitted the assumption of some interest on the part of the Nebraska men toward a burning issue current in their home state the attempt to restore prohibition. They 312 of them made known their sentiments by signing a petition a document destined to bring some interesting reactions and nationwide attention a few months later. It was couched in these terms:
18 August, 1944
To the People of Nebraska:
We, the undersigned citizens of Nebraska, who are now serving in the armed forces in defense of our country, are dismayed to learn that those of us who survive this war may have to return to the kind of Nebraska that our fathers returned to in 1919. We feel that we are being disfranchised. Our minds are fully occupied with two propositions: To kill as many Germans as possible to the end that we get home as quickly as possible; and to ourselves survive until we can get home again. We ask the people of Nebraska to see it that the Nebraska we return to will be the same Nebraska we left when we entered the Armed Forces.
Pauses of much longer than a day were not to be expected in this fast-moving warfare, and the next morning (August 19) brought a warning order to prepare to move sometime around noon. Actually the time turned out to be 1430, and this was a shuttle movement. Trucks first carried the 1st Battalion assigned the advance guard mission to the new area south of Janville (a distance of about forty miles), then returned to meet the marching troops of the 2nd Battalion and, finally, those of the 3rd.
Now the Regiment was assigned a tactical mission of its own; it was not anticipated that there would be very much organized resistance yet, but the Regiment now would be going through areas not yet cleared by other troops. Leaving the 3rd Battalion at Santilly as division reserve, the 134th moved out at 0700 on August 21, by motor and marching, to advance through a light rain another 20 miles to the east and to occupy the high ground just to the west of Pithiviers. Hardly had this objective been reached when a new order came to move on, seven or eight miles to the southeast, to Bouilly-en-Gatinais.
But the pressure grew in the execution. It was 0100 when the next movement order arrived (August 22). This time the objective was to be an area about 4,000 yards west of Montargis. It was to be a coordinated advance at 0700, with the 134th Combat Team on the right, and the 320th on the left.
Continuing in its role of advanced guard, Colonel Boatsmans 1st Battalion was on the objective less than two hours after its column of 6 x 6 trucks crossed the IP. The 2nd Battalion followed at 0920. First Battalion patrols, probing out toward the city of Montargis, encountered enemy groups at 1000. It was the first active contact with enemy forces since leaving the hedgerow country around Mortain. Patrols maintained their activity until they were able to get into the outskirts of the town, but it appeared that here was an objective which was going to require some effort in the taking. Even in reaching their initial objectives those battalions had captured and destroyed three tanks and had picked up three prisoners.
While the 1st and 2nd Battalions were organizing patrols to send into Montargis, Lt. Col. John T. Hoyne, division intelligence officer (G-2) determined to make an effort to obtain capitulation without further fighting. Toward this end he led a small, unarmed party into the city under a white flag. Marching down the main street, tense in the feeling that Nazi eyes were watching their every move, they advanced toward the center of the city. Formal and cool toward the enthusiastic welcome of the French populace, but warm within from the bright sun, the long march, and the nervous tension, they moved on, head and eyes straight to the front. Tension almost reached the breaking point when they encountered a German soldier riding a bicycle. Cooperative Frenchmen quickly manhandled the Nazi and turned his weapon over to the Americans, but Colonel Hoyne, anxious lest the incident bring down fire from hidden Germans, quickly restored the weapon to the cyclist while the crowd watched with some bewilderment. The G-2 had intended to present an ultimatum to the German commander to surrender or receive the full force of an artillery barrage. But it appeared that the German commander already had decided to leave that hopeless situation. He was no where to be found. Numbers of German soldiers remained in the town, all right, but they were a disorganized lot, and the 1st and 2nd Battalions had the situation under control. In fact, as the G-2 left the town he met Captain Glen Saddler who already was setting up the 1st Battalion C.P. Later that afternoon a 2nd Battalion patrol made its way completely through the city to reach the railway at the eastern edge.
Operations at Montargis netted some 265 prisoners, including 5 officers. Actually there seemed to have been only one organized defensive unit in town - the 1st Battalion of the 738th Infantry Regiment. A general officer and lieutenant colonel had abandoned the city the night before, and left the defenses in the hands of a major of the 2nd Battalion of that German infantry regiment. This major had been assigned the task of organizing another battalion out of the mixture of troops from other units who happened to be there, but the attack of the 134th had come before he was able to accomplish that organization. There were Poles and Austrians as well as Germans in the enemy unit and the state of disintegration of the German forces could be seen in how the various units happened to be in Montargis at the time. One unit had been passing through en route from Avignon to Paris; another group had been withdrawing from the vicinity of LeMans and Orleans; some men had been separated from their units and had been merely withdrawing in the general direction of Germany; one man had just been dismissed from a hospital in town and had not been able to rejoin his unit.
One of those incidents of the kind which the world tended to associate more and more with Nazism came to light in Montargis as the result of some investigations of Master Sergeant Edward E. Bloch of New York, military intelligence interpreter with the Regiment. According to the reports of eyewitnesses, a French priest, named Fouche, had gone to see a German officer in order to ask permission to evacuate some civilians to his sacristy several hours before the arrival of American troops in Montargis. The officers reaction had been to curse the cure and throw fruit at him; then, as the priest had turned to go away, either the officer or one of the men in the vicinity, had shot him in the back and killed him.
While these events around Montargis had been commanding the attention of the Regiment, its 3rd Battalion had remained in division reserve. The XII Corps was on the southern, or right flank of the Third Army, the 35th Division was on the corps right flank, and now the 3rd Battalion, as division reserve, was assigned the mission of guarding the right flank along the Loire River. At this point the protection of the Third Armys exposed flank was "in the hands of the Ninth Air Force and the 3rd Battalion." Such disregard for the flank was made possible by the very momentum of the corps forward drive in disrupting the German forces, and by close liaison with the attached fighter-bomber group of the XIX Tactical Air Command - air observers kept a close watch on that flank, and their bombs and machine guns would discourage any attempt of the enemy to collect a serious force there. The 3rd Battalions role in the flank protection consisted of maintaining a series of "road blocks" or outposts along the highway which paralleled the Loire River northwest of Gien.
While the men of Company L and tank destroyers went south to man the road blocks, the remainder of the 3rd Battalion was formed into a task force (Wood) to prepare an assault on Bellegarde were it had been reported that there were some 2,000 of the enemy. Company I was to ride tanks, and Company K to follow on trucks. However, it was discovered that any enemy groups which might have been in Bellegarde had withdrawn before the battalion launched any attack, and that unit was able to move without difficulty to successive locations near Montigny, at Lorris, and Ouzzey.
The 3rd Battalions Company L also contacted enemy groups on August 22 for the first time since the beginning of this "new war." It happened that Captain Heffelfinger, battalion executive officer, had gone down to inspect the outpost positions of Company L. He and the company commander, Lieutenant Greenlief, walking along the road toward Gien in a countryside which appeared to be harmless enough, ventured beyond the last roadblock. Suddenly two Germans jumped up from the side of the road, mounted bicycles, and started to flee. A quick exchange of fire - in which the battalion executive officers pistol proved to be completely worthless in the emergency - brought an end to the flight of the two Germans, but it also brought more firing as additional riflemen began to appear on each side. Shortly the squad which had come to the assistance of the two officers was able to drive away the remaining Germans and to occupy the former enemy positions.
Major Warren C. Wood, who had gone to the 3rd Battalion (he previously had been 1st
Battalion executive officer) to take command four or five days earlier, arrived on the scene of this latest skirmish a few minutes latter. He carried a pair of majors leaves for Heffelfinger and a pair of captains bars for Greenlief. On receiving this indication of a promotion, Greenliefs response was, "And just think, if that Kraut had beaten me to the draw, I would have ended my career a lieutenant!" (Other officers in the Regiment were receiving notice of promotion about this same time: Captain Roecker to Major; First Lieutenants Keltner, Saddler, Krebsbach, Pescosolido, and Ruby to Captain; Second Lieutenants Campbell, Casner, Erickson, Hum, Kennedy, Kjems, Mann, and Wardwell to First Lieutenant.
Operations terminated successfully at Montargis, elements of the Regiment - including the 3rd Battalion, now released from its mission in division reserve - assembled east of the city on August 24, and prepared to resume the advance on the morrow. The new objective was Joigny and the high ground to the east. It was a distance of about 35 miles from Montargis.
When the 1st Battalion - continuing as advance guard - crossed the I.P. at Amilly at 0700, there was welcome reassurance in the report of the 1st Battalion patrol which had found Courtenay (on the main highway north of the route to Joigny) free of the enemy, and the report of another patrol which had found the route clear as far as Chateaurenard. This indicated that there should be nothing to slow the advance at least for a third of the way. Beyond that point, however, there could be no such assurance. French reports mentioned a German battalion in Joigny.
But any question about the defenses of Joigny were settled little more than two hours later. By 0915 the 1st Battalion was on its objective east of that town; but it appeared that this was going to be about as far as the column could go without encountering the enemy. Patrols reported enemy groups to the south and east of Joigny.
Indeed, even the progress thus far, rapid and easy as it seemed, was not without its cost. The high spirits and the news of the great advances, the news bulletins and headlines back home, all these sometimes tended to blind those who read them to the shadow of sorrow which still reserved the right to creep in. Only the day before, the war had ended for Sergeant Marshall R. Carpenter of Company B. And now on the way to his wife in Dothan, Alabama, would be that War Department message - the telegram of which loved ones lived the war days and nights in dread. Now, while news broadcasts and newspapers told of the liberation of French towns and "light casualties," while men in local barbershops traded glowing accounts of their sons in the war, while neighbors in the local groceries greeted each other in excited comments on the way the war was going, in the midst of all this hope, hope and a world had come to an end for his wife, Madge. Sergeant Carpenter had been a member of one of those patrols whose necessity remains constant for security and reconnaissance in any fast-moving situation. The sergeant had died in a burst of machine gun fire; but his unit had escaped threats to its own safety or to the renewal of its advance that next day.
Regimental Headquarters moved into Joigny at 1000 and set up the C.P. A town of about 7,000 population, Joigny was an attractive town which had escaped serious damage, though there were at least two large unexploded bombs there.
Last elements of the combat team did not close in until 1230, but when the 3rd Battalion arrived - following the 2nd - it had a truck half filled with German prisoners. The battalion intelligence section - that is, the S-2, the sergeant, a scout, and the jeep driver - had rounded up seven of the prisoners during a pause in its contact mission with the motor column.
But this was only the beginning. Even as the last elements of the Regiment were moving into the Joigny area, reports came from an artillery air observer that a large column of German troops were moving northeast from Villemer - a village about eight miles southeast of Joigny. Added to reports of the French and of the Regiments own patrols, there was no question but that the enemy was in the area in rather large numbers. The question was, would he fight?
Now the French brought a report that there were a hundred or more Nazis near Villemer who were willing to surrender; but they would surrender only to Americans. Here was a task cut out for the regimental intelligence officer, Major Dale M. Godwin. With a reinforced platoon from the 3rd Battalions Company I and Sergeant Bloch, the interpreter, the S-2 moved out in quest of prisoners. After a couple of changes in direction, the column approached the town where the enemy was reported to be. Stopping the trucks above the military crest of a small hill, where they would be safe from direct fire, the major and interpreter dismounted, took a white flag, and walked down the dusty road toward the enemy position. On arrival, they found a typical "Hollywood" Nazi in command. Asked to surrender, he replied that he would like four hours to think it over. Major Godwin told him to come out within 30 minutes, or all the artillery at his disposal (which was very little) would be brought down. Officers with the small task force made every effort they could to get some artillery fire within that time, but had little success. Fortunately, some artillery from somewhere did fall in the general vicinity. After some delay, then, a group of about 50 Germans came over the hill to surrender. Shortly after, another group of 26 came up the road on bicycles. Soon a 2 1/2-ton truck was in regular shuttle service hauling prisoners.
This particular source of prisoners ceased only when, late in the afternoon, the 3rd Battalion was ordered to move on to St. Florentin, 17 miles farther east. But prisoners were coming from other units of the Regiment.
One of the more spectacular of the actions in this multi-ring circus of gathering up Germans was that of the Antitank Company. This action, as all such should be, was the result of active reconnaissance and the exercise of initiative and aggressive leadership. First Lieutenant William P. Sheehy of Nebraska, an anti-tank platoon leader on motor reconnaissance over the roads in the Joigny vicinity, noticed groups of Germans in a field some distance away. Sheehys immediate reaction was to open fire, though it might have meant a hostile and dangerous response from numerous enemy. The Germans retired to a woods, however, and when Sheehy led a patrol down to the woods, he returned with 42 prisoners. Anti-tank guns opened fire on a German column on the road, and the lieutenant directed additional fire into the woods. Results were decisive in a space of time hardly to be reckoned in minutes. Destroyed material cluttered the road, there were all kinds of motor vehicles and numbers of horses to be had, and the Anti-tank Company contributed more than 300 prisoners to the regimental cages. By the end of the day, no less than 796 German soldiers had been retired from the opposition by the prisoner of war route.
Only a partial list of the units represented in this group of prisoners indicates something of the extent to which disintegration had overtaken the German forces in the area: 10 companies of the 758th Infantry Regiment (including three 75mm anti-tank guns), one company of the 759th Infantry Regiment, three companies of the 11th Panzer-Grenadier Regiment, two companies from the 1010th Motor Security Regiment (one of these companies, armed with six 20mm anti-aircraft guns, had been in action at Montargis), three companies of the 192nd Security Regiment, the 57th Signal Regiment (Luftwaffe - Air Force), Luftwaffe Home Guard, Luftwaffe Supply Company, 852nd Flak (Anti-aircraft) Regiment, Bombardment Squadron Flight 7, 698th Anti-aircraft Replacement Regiment, 1708 Artillery Regiment.
As the arrival of additional prisoners continued to swell the total during the next day, the activities of the Regiment were centered largely around patrolling and security measures, and in following up reports of local groups of the F.F.I. (French Forces of the Interior), the abundance of which reports seemed to grow with each hour. But already those underground fighters of the "Marquis" had gained the respect of American leaders by their active assistance in the early days of the breakout. Their contributions had been such that General Eisenhower could report:
When our armor had swept past them they were given the task of clearing up the localities where pockets of Germans remained, and of keeping open the Allied lines of communication. They also provided our troops with invaluable assistance in supplying information of the enemys dispositions and intentions. Not least in importance, they had, by their ceaseless harassing activities, surrounded the Germans with a terrible atmosphere of danger and hatred which ate into the confidence of the leaders and the courage of soldiers.
Their actions in rising up to seize towns as the Americans approached, the security they provided for such a rapid advance by protecting its rear, the assistance they gave in pointing out directions (even though it seemed to take a committee conference to do it sometimes) were worth divisions in the task of liberating their own country. These me who, for the most part, were engaging in hazardous enterprise and risking their lives neither for the attraction of lucrative pay nor out of fear for articles of war, now were anxious to give all possible assistance to the American Regiment which had worked its way to their midst. Such assistance sometimes even tended to assume the character of annoyance of the regimental and battalion intelligence sections as reports of enemy groups, columns, activities - each demanding immediate attention - crowded upon each other during those two days and nights in Joigny - St. Florentine area.
Motor patrols continued their activity - an activity ever assuming a greater range. As a measure toward maintaining security over the main communications route, the 3rd Battalions Company I received an assignment to move to Bouilly - 20 miles east of St. Florentine - and to operate patrols all the way to Troyes to contact the 320th Infantry. French reports of a German column - 1,000 to 2,000 strong, equipped with horse-drawn artillery - in the vicinity of Tonnerre, about 16 miles south of St. Florentine, brought a motor patrol of the Regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon and the 3rd Battalion Intelligence Section; this group failed to catch up with the columns, but it did enter the city of Tonnerre only a few hours after the Germans had withdrawn - it was another triumphal entry. Amidst cheering, happy throngs. The prisoner "take" ran the total for August up to 1765.
But the "drive to the east" was halted at Aix-en-Othe (15 miles north of St. Florentine) on August 29.
By the time the news had arrived of the fall of Paris and of the rapid advances being made by allied troops in nearly every area, and optimism was mounting among all ranks. Rumors and good news continued throughout the week. On September 5, Stockholm and Paris reports said that American troops had reached Perl, Germany, 12 miles northeast of Thionville, while other troops were reported to have crossed the German frontier from Belgium toward Aachen; unconfirmed radio reports also announced the fall of Antwerp, Dunkirk, (Dunkerque), Boulogne, Calais, Metz, and Nancy. Rumors of advances continued the next day, and there even was a rumor of German peace overtures. It was confirmed on the 7th that the Third Army had had patrols in Germany, and the climax of it all came that day with the publication of the Armys plan for demobilization. Wagers were being laid on how much longer the war could last - three weeks or six, or "over by Thanksgiving." Even officers at Supreme Headquarters were sharing in the almost unbounded optimism; one general officer there predicted an end of hostilities within three weeks; the deputy G-2, in speaking of the Siegfried Line remarked, "Why, of course, well go right through it." (As a matter of fact, when the 28th Division did reach the Siegfried Line on September 10, its patrols did walk right through - without opposition!)
In spite of all these reports of spectacular advances and bursts of optimism, the 134th Infantry was conducting disciplinary drill, weapons training, conferences in small unit tactics, marches, inspections, and, of course, continuos motor patrols. There could be little question but that a regular daily schedule (some units even were sounding bugle calls), the First visit of Red Cross "Clubmobiles," with doughnuts and coffee - and American girls - an opportunity to see a movie for the first time since landing in France - all these were welcome and refreshing experiences for the infantrymen of the 134th. But they must have known, deeply, that however much they hoped for a prolongation of their vacation from war, that they were living in a "fools paradise," for each day of military inactivity granted the enemy another precious day in which to gather up his disintegrating forces and form new lines for defense.
The Third Army was slowing to a halt for want of gasoline. That supply lines should be taxed in trying to support an advance at once so rapid and so far away from the bases was to be expected. Something of the nature of the problem was suggested in the announcement on September 4 that airplanes had dropped 10 tons of maps to General Pattons racing units. But the Third Army was losing its race with the supply lines, and priorities on supplies were going to Field Marshall Montgomerys 21st Army Group for a major effort in the north. Recognizing the unfortunate disadvantages in permitting the enemy these days of grace in which to prepare new defenses, we proposed that the infantry should resume the advance on foot. A march of 15 (Shermans field order for the "March to the Sea" had called for a daily march of 15 miles) to 25 miles (all units of the Regiment had marched 25 miles in eight hours with full field equipment) a day should have been entirely feasible, but a restraining order to the Third Army, holding it in place, ruled out even this expedient. For ten days, then, in addition to the two at Joigny and St. Florentine, the 134th Infantry remained in bivouac around Aix-en-Othe while the enemy prepared his defenses behind the Moselle River.
By September 8, the gasoline shortage had been alleviated sufficiently to permit further movement of the 35th Division. It was a move of 125 miles, and took the 134th Infantry to an area around Thuilly-aux-Grosielles, a town approximately at the apex of a triangle between Toul (about eight miles to the northwest) and Pont-St. Vincent (a slightly less distance to the north-northeast, at the junction of Madon and Moselle Rivers). On closing in the new area, the battalions began to operate motor patrols, and the French began to bring information of the enemy.
There were a number of very strongly-built forts on dominating hills throughout the Toul-Nancy area, and a determined enemy would be able to make a great deal of trouble at any of them. Mazieres (a village about 5 miles east of Thuilley) had been receiving artillery fire from time to time. (Indicative of an organized defense, these reports of artillery fire had been the first since the hedgerow country.) Enemy artillery weapons were reported to be located in the Foret de Haye - a large forest in the big bend of the Moselle between Toul and Nancy. American troops (the 80th Division) had advanced eastward from their bridgehead to Toul to enter Gondreville, Domartin-les-Toul, and Chandeney, but the enemy still held strong Fort de Villey-le-Sec. Moreover, it soon became evident that German patrols were operating to the west of the river near the 134th. That evening a patrol jeep of the 3rd Battalion halted at Maizieres with a flat tire, and while the driver changed tires, it came under fire from a group of Germans; an effective return of the fire on the part of the other members of the patrol protected the driver while he finished his task, and all were able to escape safely.
Shortly after arrival of the Regiment in its new area, a lieutenant from a mechanized cavalry unit into the C.P. to propose that if we would send along a platoon of infantry to hold it, he would undertake to attack Fort de Pont-St. Vincent. A brief inspection of the map was sufficient to indicate the desirability of holding this key terrain feature - and it was not difficult to see what disadvantage it would be to us to leave the fort to the enemy. That high ground dominated the valley and crossing sites of the Moselle River along the most direct route to Nancy. Division Headquarters had not yet established itself in this area, and technically the fort lay beyond the "goose-egg" assigned to the Regiment. Its occupation was so plainly desirable, however, that the cavalry lieutenant departed with the assurance that he would have the support of an infantry platoon, and the hope that by nightfall he would have gained the fort. Assembled on the high ground west of Viterne, the 1st Battalion was near the route to the fort, and the mission fell to Company As 1st Platoon.
Whatever German resistance remained in the fort, it had little effect against the attacking force. Moving behind a screen of almost continuous machine gun and 37mm fire from the light tanks, the Company A platoon found itself escorted across the final 400 yards of open ground approaching the old fort just at dusk. Continuous streams of tracer bullets made a spectacular display, and best of all, there was no effective resistance on the part of what few Germans might have remained.
What might have been an almost impossible task had been accomplished with little difficulty; yet that lone platoon could hardly rest with very much assurance of security, for now it found itself with the mission of holding a fort which might more appropriately have been garrisoned by at least a battalion. Perhaps built as early as 1870, the fort was one whose construction would defy most modern weapons. It was a pentagon - a five-sided structure - with wall 300 yards long on each side. There was a broad court within, and subterranean chambers extending three stories below the surface of the ground. There even was a moat around the outside of the walls, and a drawbridge. Numerous firing ports facilitated the defense, but several entrances and the magnitude of the thing complicated the defense when it was in the hands of such a small unit.
When a telephone call came from Division Headquarters that evening ordering the seizure of the fort "and hold at all costs," it was something of a pleasure to reply that we already had the fort.
In order to make that control more secure, the remainder of Company A was to proceed to the fort the next morning. Arriving just in time to take command of Company A in this assignment was First Lieutenant William D. Brodbeck. Although Brodbecks combat time amounted to a total to be computed in a few hours, already his service had been spread over all three battalions. After going into action as executive officer of Company L when the 3rd Battalion relieved elements of the 29th Division north of St. Lo, Brodbeck had gone to the 2nd Battalion three hours after the jump-off on the 15th, to take command of Company G; four hours later he had been wounded by a shell fragment. He had returned to the Regiment with Major Weyand (also wounded north of St. Lo) in time for the latest move, and then had been assigned to the command of Company A. Even his assumption of this command, however, had not been simple, for, though enemy contact had been slight, Brodbeck became a casualty again as he moved with the motor column. This time the jeep in which he was riding hit a 2 1/2-ton truck, and though he had been thrown clear of the wreck, he had received some uncomfortable, though not serious, injuries. It was from this latest day of medical treatment that he was returning on this September 9 to lead the remainder of his company up to join the 1st Platoon in Fort de Pont-St. Vincent.
Already the Germans evidently were regretting their abandonment of the fort, and sporadic mortar fire was falling about as the reinforcing platoons approached the stronghold. Lieutenant Brodbeck paused briefly to time the mortar fire. Finding it to be falling in intervals of 60 and 90 seconds, he sent groups of men rushing into the cover of the fort during the interval, and the company suffered not a single casualty. The shelling continued sporadically throughout the day. A few minutes after a visit by the division commander, a shell dropped into the court and wounded some men. Lieutenant Brodbeck, thinking that he had about 50 seconds before another shell, ran out to the court to help one of the wounded men get under cover. Unfortunately, the Germans seem to have been firing for effect at that particular moment, and another shell burst in the courtyard just in time to wound the newly arrived company commander again.
The shelling intensified after that, and at 1800 hours a gun of very large caliber - it was a 280mm weapon - began firing in an apparent effort to soften up the defenses preparatory to an attack. Brodbeck had organized those defenses expertly, and members of Company A were on the alert for the attack when it came the next morning.
Now, with the evacuation of Lieutenant Brodbeck, the direction of the defense was in the hands of Lieutenant Constant J. Kjems.
While the artillery fire had been falling, a German battalion had been crossing the Moselle River over a partially destroyed bridge near the town of Pont. St. Vincent. A force of approximately 700 men, the German Battalion included four infantry companies and a company of parachute troops. During the hours of darkness, those hostile companies, intent on regaining the lost prize, moved up toward their objective and completely surrounded the fort. With the coming of dawn, observers of Company A could make out a party of Germans coming - under a white flag - toward the fort. They carried an ultimatum calling upon the Americans, in view of the fact that already they were surrounded, to surrender. It was not in the nature of Kjems and his men to surrender. His answer was to call upon his company to get ready for an attack. The enemys answer was fire - mortar, rocket, machine gun, but Company A met fire with fire as the enemy attacked from all sides. The major assaults came against entrances to the fort, and time after time the Germans drove to the very gates by sheer force of numbers, only to have their ranks riddled by the well-coordinated fire of the defenders. But the determined enemy refused to give up; he only renewed his assaults with greater vigor. Enemy troops were closing around the walls; some were gaining entrance into the fort. Kjems called for artillery; he ordered the men to remain under cover, and he called for time fire on the fort itself! By now artillery battalions had moved forward to positions in the broad valley running to the south of Fort de Pont St. Vincent. They could have fired on the fort by direct laying. Here was one of the rare occasions when member of artillery gun crews could see the results of their own firing. It was a vicious barrage that those artillerymen sent up to that hill. It was a coordinated "time on target" mission, and scores of 105 and 155mm shells which burst in the air over Company As fort were immediately effective. There remained the matter of closing out a small group of Germans which had occupied one corner of the fort, but the attack had been broken. It had been repelled - by virtue of the well-coordinated fires of infantry weapons, and the immediate and accurate response of artillery - at a tremendous cost to the enemy battalion. Men of Company A swear that there were as many as 100 German dead to be found after the attack.
While Company A remained involved in its own battle, the other units of the Regiment were moving - this time it was on foot - toward new objectives on the west bank of the Moselle River. It will be recalled that there was a big bend in the Moselle in this vicinity; one might reach that river either by going north or east, and while it ran below the hill of Fort Pont St. Vincent, it was about 10 miles away in an easterly direction. Actually the regimental objective was the Moulins Bois, between the Madon and the Moselle.
It was 0800, September 10, when the Regiment moved out. The 2nd Battalion, (Major Roecker, after a few days illness was back in command) moving east from its area at Germany, was on the right; Colonel Boatsmans 1st Battalion (except Company A, who had its hands full at the fort) advanced on the left, and Major Woods 3rd Battalion, in reserve, followed the 2nd. No enemy resistance interfered with the advanced infantry columns during the morning hour. About the only outside activity was a beautiful bombing attack - carried out by American light and medium bombers - on the Foret de Haye (to the north of the regimental zone, within the big bend of the Moselle). By noon the battalions were fording the shallow Madon River - the 1st below Xeuilley, and the 2nd and 3rd at Pierreville. Because of the angle to the direction of march in which the rivers - and the objective - lay, the 1st Battalion had a somewhat less distance to go than did the 2nd. With no enemy opposition in its path, then, the 1st Battalion was on its objective at 1320, and already was beginning reconnaissance of the principal obstacle to any further advance - the Moselle River.
Some artillery fire - sporadic and scattered - had begun to fall in the zone of advance as the battalion crossed the Madon. A particularly bothersome point of resistance developed from Frolois - a town just east of the Madon - as the enemy began firing into the left flank of the 2nd Battalion. There was some treacherous 20mm fire; there was small arms fire; an artillery barrage fell in the midst of the thin columns of the 3rd Battalion as it marched down toward Pierreville from the west, but the men deployed quickly and by some miracle escaped injury. Major Roecker had no intention of becoming involved in a delaying action at Frolois, but he could not ignore this threat to his flank. He called for an artillery mission, but he could not expect artillery to be permanently effective against the protection which the enemy had in the village. Therefore he called upon Company G to clean out Frolois while the rest of the battalion continued toward its objective. All this did involve some delay, but men of Company G carried out their side mission decisively. Climax of their action came when a bazooka team, suspicious of the German use of Church steeples, fired a rocket into the steeple of the village church. It rang the bell, and out fell two Germans.
As Companies E and F approached the woods which marked the reverse slope of the ridge which would be their objective, they came under grazing machine gun fire. It looked as though there might be a mean job of cleaning out the woods to do, but German positions were confined to the edge of the woods - so located around the corners of that section of wood that flanks and front of the advancing companies were subject to fire. Responding with tremendous bursts of fire, E and F were able to force their way into the woods, and to overrun the cleverly constructed German dugouts. Strands of red-covered communication wire running over the ground led to a German C.P. The whole resistance was overcome in a much shorter time than might have been expected, and soon the 2nd Battalion could report that it too was on the objective, and was beginning a reconnaissance of the river to its front.
The 3rd Battalion halted in the woods a thousand yards south of those which the 2nd Battalion occupied, and its leaders too began reconnaissance to the front. Members of the 3rd Battalion party reached the village of Flavigny - on the banks of the Moselle - just in time to see Nazi troops withdrawing to the accompaniment of scornful jeers and "boos" from the villagers. Armed with a boldness encouraged from this spectacle, Captain Ruby (Company M) and Lieutenant Hyde (Company I) proceeded to inspect the principal parts of the town. Their security, however, did not equal their ambition, and soon they found themselves in the midst of so many remaining Germans that their escape appeared to be highly doubtful for the time being. Automatic small arms fire chased the other 3rd Battalion leaders over the hill and followed them down the road. It was a long and anxious minutes later that Ruby and Hyde, successful in evading would be captors, returned to their battalion.
Reconnaissance in the 2nd Battalions zone revealed something that might change the whole plan for renewal of the attack. A highway bridge across the river - just northwest of Flavigny - remained intact. The decision to seize a bridge whenever one remains intact is almost automatic, and Major Roecker had instructions to take advantage of any existing bridges. He already had reached his days objectives, however, and division headquarters was planning a coordinated attack on a broad front for the next day. It was advisable, therefore, to refer the decision to higher headquarters. When Major Roecker called Regiment, then, to report the find, it appeared that here was a windfall. The highway which crossed this bridge was the direct route to Nancy eight miles to the north. And here was a possibility for the 134th Infantry to get a ready-made crossing! The prospect was appealing. No infantryman was likely to harbor a relish for making a river crossing by assault boat. But more than that, with a good bridge and a highway available, tanks would be able to cross without waiting for construction, and not only would they be available for defense of the bridgehead, but they might be available to make a rapid thrust toward Nancy. Of course, as in any military operation, an attack to seize the bridge would involve risk; the extent of the enemys defenses were not known accurately. But a success would mean a valuable prize.
When, in the interest of coordination. the matter was referred to division, the reaction of the chief of staff was brief and decisive. "Grab it!" he said. (An entry in the 134th Infantry S-3 Journal for 10 September, 1944, states; "1240 - Flavigny - Bridge intact at this pt. Grab this if possible.")
Plans already were being made for a coordinated division attack the next morning at 0500. The 134th and 137th Regiments were able to make the crossing at six sites, with the 137th on the right. Pursuant to this plan a regimental order was prepared at 1720 hours that evening. Each battalion was assigned a forward assembly area where it was to assemble during the night, and then the 3rd Battalion was to cross at a point, on the regimental right, designated as "D," while the 2nd was to cross simultaneously at site "E," and the 1st was to follow the 2nd and then cross at sight "F." With the decision to make a try for the bridge, however, the 2nd Battalion was ordered, at 1700 hours, to make the attack.
Even as that battalion moved down toward its precarious objective, a new order, calling for a crossing by the 1st and 3rd Battalions in the coordinated effort at 0500 the next morning, was prepared. This would be put into effect should the 2nd Battalions attempt fail; but in the meantime these two battalions were to get ready to cross the bridge immediately behind the 2nd.
At first everything went well for the 2nd Battalion after it started moving at 2200 hours. Within an hour Companies E and F, a part of G, and a heavy machine gun platoon had raced across the bridge. Then, as it appeared that success was imminent, the Nazi defenders discovered what was happening, and heavy artillery concentrations began to fall. Tank destroyers were ordered to the scene; one platoon was directed to cross immediately. But they failed to arrive in time; and the Germans were counterattacking with tanks.
Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion was marching down in order to cross as soon as the 2nd had cleared. Continuous flares and an unending roar of mortar and artillery shells marked the bridge site that night. The column halted along the open road while Major Wood went forward to contact the 2nd Battalion commander. Making his way to the highway, whose surface was covered with leaves and boughs freshly cut by flying shell fragments, and where dead of the preceding battalion lay along the shoulders where they had fallen, he walked through the continuing barrages toward the bridge. He found the 2nd Battalion command group operating in a culvert beneath the approaches to the bridge. Aid men crowded in to work over the wounded, communications men worked vainly to keep the telephone line open, officers struggled against the roar of shells to hear and make themselves heard on the radio; and there was no pause in the enemy shells which were bursting on and around the bridge. The intensity of this fire was making it difficult to move any additional troops across the bridge, and the way was not yet clear for the 3rd Battalion to begin crossing; at the same time the violence of the counterattack on the opposite side of the river was making doubtful the fate of the men who already had crossed.
Then at 0130 came a thunderous explosion on the bridge. An artillery shell - or, more probably, a sympathetic detonation of a fixed charge - had destroyed one of the spans. This left the men who had crossed in the extremely perilous position of facing an overwhelming counterattack with means neither for reinforcement nor for escape.
Those men of the 2nd Battalion knew almost automatically that the thunderous explosion, ringing in their ears above all the fire that continued, signaled what they had dreaded most. They were cut off. Germans, screaming "Hiel Hitler!" closed in. Now, in the dark confusion which set in upon the lack of communication, the lack of contact, the lack of visibility, and the presence of Germans - with tanks - in their midst, individuals and small groups were on their own. For some, the prospect of facing German tanks without anti-tank defenses - and of defending themselves when the only thing clear in the whole situation was that help could not reach them - all this was too overwhelming to be endured. Some counted on the blindness of the tanks at night and reasoned that the darkness was as much a handicap to the Germans as to themselves. Others entered into no calculations whatever, they simply were seized with a determination never to give up.
One man of such determination was Sergeant Raymond M. Parker of Vermont. An assistant squad leader, Parker, cut off from his own unit, found himself with some machine gunners who were separated from their leaders. His instinct was to fight with whatever means might be at hand, and he lost no time in organizing a pair of makeshift machine gun squads and getting the guns into action. But machine guns invite fire and death as well as dispense it, and enemy reaction soon exacted its toll; but then Parker himself manned one of the guns until his ammunition was exhausted. His means for defense eliminated, Parker soon fell into the hands of the Germans. It was only a temporary captivity, however, for the sturdy sergeant saw a fleeting opportunity and dived into the inky darkness and ran toward the river. His first major obstacle was the Canal de LEst which ran in a concrete bed just along the northeast bank of the river. There was no time for hesitation, and he plunged into the water, reached the opposite side with a few quick strokes, and scrambled up the concrete bank. Without pause, he made for the river itself, and after a long swim - with a river current now to be fought - he made good his escape.
When a pair of Germans suddenly came upon another 2nd Battalion sergeant from the rear, he was, unbeknown to them, in a rather awkward position; he had just pulled the pin from a hand grenade preparatory to throwing it at a suspected enemy position. Of course the grenade would not explode until about five seconds after the sergeant should release his grip and so permit the striker to function. There was nothing to do but hold on to it, and this the ineffective inspection of his captors permitted him to do. They marched him for several minutes over rough ground and finally up a road to a small house. When his eyes became accustomed to the light of the stuffy room, he saw several German officers and soldiers staring at him. Obviously he was at a battalion or regimental command post. He could detect a look of dismay come over the faces of a few officers who were gazing at what he was carrying; that dismayed look, to the accompaniment of guttural undertones, quickly spread about the room. The German staff was in very much of a dilemma. If they demanded that the American sergeant drop the grenade, they invited destruction for themselves; they did not dare wrest it from him, for in the transfer from one hand to another, the lever would be released the instant necessary to set the mechanism to functioning; they could not order him to do anything, for if he refused, all they could do would be to shoot him, and that too would mean the release of a live grenade in the same room with themselves. In that moment of awkward hesitation he took his cue. He bolted out the door before the guard could think, and pausing just long enough to hurl his precious grenade over his shoulder at the house, he fled haphazardly through the night. He fell over some stones, but was up before he knew whether he had injured a knee; a few wild rifle shots came after him, but he kept on, stumbling over ruts and tree roots, falling into bushes. Instinctively he ran down hill; that would be toward the river. At last he could see the dim outline of the canal ahead, and he paused for just a moment. His heart was pounding as though it would burst, but he scarcely noticed it; he was vaguely aware of the continuing artillery and mortar barrages - coming from both sides - and he crouched low as flares threatened to reveal his location; but his whole being was concentrated on attaining that far shore of the river. Now the swim of the canal and the river were anti-climatical for him, but it sapped his remaining strength. Once he found himself safely among friends again, he felt an almost overwhelming faintness - now that he could reflect on his experience, it seemed more terrible than ever.
There were other heroes that night at the bridge at Flavigny. An inspiration to those about him, Major Carlyle McDannel went forward to assume command of the 2nd Battalion when Major Roecker was wounded for the second time. McDannels cool-headed manner was in sharp contrast to the confusion and strain reigning in that culvert beneath the approaches to the bridge. Already the bridgehead was being abandoned, and it was under his direction that surviving members of the 2nd Battalion were being collected. Captain Hake was everywhere, locating a machine gun platoon which became separated, finally withdrawing the company from the bridge after the big explosion.
Nor were they all infantrymen that night. Engineers crossed the bridge with the infantry companies - 1st Platoon, Company A, 60th Engineers was a part of the 134th Combat Team, and was considered part of the family - and the squads were neutralizing demolitions on the bridge. When the force of the enemy counterattack drove his unit back across the bridge, Corporal Thomas Downing of New York, assistant squad leader, found that a part of his squad remained on the hostile shore. Braving the unrelenting artillery concentrations, Downing re-crossed the bridge, found the missing men, and was leading them to safety as he himself fell mortally wounded. Other engineers - Private First Class William OBrien, Private Arnold Feuerman, Private Patrick J. Brennan, all of New York - remained in the vicinity of the bridge, through that unceasing fire, for as long as six hours to assist in evacuating wounded and applying first aid.
Another close member of the family, Captain Edgar Nicholson, artillery liaison officer with the 2nd Battalion, remained in his own observation post on the forward slope of a hill overlooking the bridge in order to match the unprecedented German artillery concentration with his own.
Unfortunately, this was one of those situations in which individual heroism could not overcome the inherent disadvantages, and the bridgehead was lost. There still remained, however, the alternate plan - the plan according to which the 1st and 3rd Battalions would participate in a coordinated division attack at 0500. But the hour was growing late. In a way, the very tenacity of the 2nd Battalion in its vain effort to hold the bridgehead complicated the problem. That is, its fight prolonged hope so long that now relatively little time remained in which to mount a new attack. Nevertheless, it was imperative that every effort be made to win a crossing of the Moselle, and at 0300 instructions went to the 3rd Battalion to make a crossing, by assault boat, to the right of the 2nd Battalion zone. The crossing was to be made prior to daylight; boats and treadway bridge were dispatched to the vicinity of the bridge.
The 1st Battalion was supposed to move to the former assembly area of the 2nd where it would be available to support the 3rd: it was to cross as soon as a bridge could be built.
There were some delays in getting the boats to the site, and there were delays in getting any accurate information about the 2nd Battalion. To Major Wood, chances for a successful crossing by his 3rd Battalion appeared to be growing very slim. There could be little hope for surprise, he felt, in making a crossing in the same general area where already there had been such a violent battle. But what made a boat crossing especially hazardous in this area was the canal which ran parallel to the river. This meant that, in the face of probable enemy fire, the first groups of men would have to drag their boats from the river, carry them across a few yards of open ground, and launch them again in the canal - or else attempt to swim the second channel. Moreover, daylight was approaching and the whole river line would be under observation. There was danger that a new attack might turn out to be a case of "sending good money after bad" - of losing another battalion as an effective fighting force.
As these considerations weighed heavily on Major Wood, he became convinced that the whole situation was not clear to higher headquarters. Therefore, as the time for the attack approached, he sent his battalion intelligence officer back to the regimental C.P. to try to explain what had happened. Major Craig delivered the brief supporting the battalion commanders observations.
It was not a simple decision for a regimental commander to make. To order postponement of the attack would be to act contrary to the letter of his instructions; he had to consider what effect it might have on the general plan - whether it might involve difficulties for the neighboring regiment which was to be crossing some distance to the south. On the other hand, an attack into certain failure not only would fail to be of any assistance in the over-all plan, but it might impair the effectiveness of the Regiment to such an extent that it would be unable to render any kind of assistance to the common effort for some time to come. One of the reasons for the effectiveness of the American Army has been in the importance attached to the initiative of the individual soldier and the relative freedom of action in commanders of all echelons. The regimental commander was in the possession of information which could not have been clear to higher headquarters. He alone was in a position to influence the situation.
His instructions were for the 3rd Battalion to cover the reorganization of the 2nd.
Commanding the 2nd Battalion now was Lt. Col. James T. Walker. After arrival at the Regiment the preceding evening, Walker had been assigned initially to the 3rd Battalion, but after the wounding of Major Roecker, he had gone to the 2nd. His battalion now counted a total strength of 295 men. This meant that the fighting strength of that battalion, deducting company and battalion overhead, was somewhat below that of a single "normal" company.
The loss was a severe one for the 134th Infantry. One battalion had been eliminated, for the time being, as an effective fighting unit. It was a difficult thing to accept. This prize of a good bridge and a direct route to Nancy had been almost within grasp, but the counterattack had been too strong.
As a matter of fact, the Moselle River was found to be a bitterly defended barrier all the way along the line. Indeed, later that morning the 2nd Battalion of the 137th Infantry likewise was forced to abandon a crossing, although later that Regiment was able to make a new attack and secure a permanent bridgehead. Whether it was the 90th Division at Pont-a-Mousson, or the 80th below Toul on the north side of the big bend, or the 35th around Flavigny and Lorey and Coyviller, the results were similar. The Nazis had made good use of those days which the 134th Infantry had spent in bivouac at Aix-en-Othe. Now the Stars and Stripes was saying: "Some of the bitterest fighting since St. Lo and LaHaye de Puits was reported from the Third Army front . . . Germans with their best remaining divisions along the Moselle were trying to hold the fortress towns of Metz, Toul, and Nancy."
The Regiment now faced a task of reorganization to prepare itself for another try at crossing. Company A during all this time had been holding securely to Fort de Pont St. Vincent in the face of repeated threats, and now that key terrain feature took on an even greater importance. Pending the reassembly of the 1st Battalion, which presently would move most of its strength to the fort, the 3rd Battalions Company K was ordered to reinforce the fortress garrison.
Changes in Regimental Headquarters now had seen Lt. Col. Sheppard evacuated because of illness, Major Craig now acting as executive officer, and Captain Carroll - who this day received notice of his promotion to major - had come to the Regiment from the 3rd Battalion to take Major Craigs place as regimental S-3.
The next day plans for a crossing were renewed, and Major Craig led a party - including the battalion commanders and S-3s - to make another reconnaissance. But according to the new plans the crossing sites were some distance to the southeast. In addition to the advantage of a new location in affording some possibility for surprise, there was the added consideration that the canal there was on the near side of the river (its concrete bed crossed the river at Haut Flavigny) and there was a considerable distance between the two obstacles as well as the concealment of woods.
Farther to the south the attack of the 137th Infantry was going well, and the 320th was crossing after. And tanks of Combat Command B of the 4th Armored Division were crossing in the zone of the 137th to "take off" toward Luneville while the 137th and 320th would swing to the northeast. It appeared that, after all, the 2nd Battalions fight at the bridge might have been a real contribution to the over-all picture. The coordinated artillery fires of two German divisions had been directed against that attack, and the tanks and infantry which the Germans threw into the battle were not available for use elsewhere. It was the feeling of General Patton, who heartily approved of the initiative shown in making that attempt, that the bitter struggle had drawn German forces to that area from the south and so had contributed materially to the success of the other crossings. Moreover, the 80th Division was reported now to have two regiments across the river in the zone to the north.
Lt. Thomas C. Haugen, regimental liaison officer, always faithful in keeping the Regiment informed of latest developments at Division Headquarters, brought instruction for the 134th to remain in position and continue patrolling to right and left. He brought further news that a plan was in the wind to form a special task force of the 134th and a regiment of the 80th Division - to go for Nancy.
Shortly before noon on 13 September, the regimental commander was called to the XII Corps C.P. It turned out to be a meeting for formation of the special task force. On orders from XII Corps the 134th Infantry - with the 319th Infantry of the 80th Division as the principal other unit - was to become a part of a task force. Under the command of Brig. Gen. Sebree, assistant division commander of the 35th, the task force was to assemble the next day in the bridgehead which the 80th Division had established east of Toul, and then attack directly eastward for Nancy on the 15th.
With the 2nd Battalion remaining to provide security in the present position and to absorb some 113 replacements which had arrived that day, the remainder of the Regiment moved early on the 14th - through a light rain - to the area east of Toul. The 3rd Battalion relieved units of the 319th Infantry in holding the line Fort de Villey-le-Sec-Gondreville.
Nancy, traditional capital of Lorraine and fifth city of France, was on objective to be covered both as a military and as a political prize. Though the city itself had not been formally annexed by the Germans after their 1940 victory, it closely associated itself with, and was regarded as the political leader of, the region to the east which had been incorporated into the Reich. By its very size and location Nancy was certain to be a center of the German occupation forces. With a population of more than 120,000 - and 50,000 more in the suburbs - Nancy was an important communications center 200 miles east of Paris and 60 miles southwest of the German border. It was an important railway center; the Rhine-Marne canal and its branches provided other arteries of commerce for the city. An important position in industry was assured by its location near the rich Lorraine iron ore deposits. Aside from the mining there were manufactures of shoes, glass, furniture, casks, tobacco. It was proud of its university, and of its artisans. Now a city of fine buildings and beautiful churches, it traced its colorful history back to the 11th and 12th Centuries. And it was the symbol of these people - the cross of Lorraine - which had become the symbol of the Fighting French. (The origin of their double-barred cross is traced back to the Crusades and the conquest of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine.) The March Lorraine practically had become a second national anthem for the French.
When the 134th Infantrys 3rd Battalion took over the positions of the 319th Infantry, it assumed responsibility for the defense of a front of nearly 6,000 yards. Now Company I, on the right flank had a fort - Fort de Villery-le-Sec - similar to the one which Company A had defended at Fort de Pont St. Vincent. It too was a reinforced concrete structure in which a whole battalion easily could have been lost. Company L occupied the left flank of the position along the eastern edge of the town of Gondreville, while reserve and Battalion Headquarters were in a position midway between the two, but some 3,000 yards to the west, in the outskirts of Dommartin-les-Toul. The 4,000 yards of open flatland between the two forward companies was covered by observation during the day, and by listening posts and contact patrols at night. All of this was to cover the preparations which were being made for the next days attack.
Men of the 134th knew that they had been transferred to this area to participate in an attack, and there never was anything particularly attractive about looking forward to an attack for an infantryman. There was something of a feeling, however, that a reprieve had been won in leaving the proposed assault across the Moselle. There is no more attractive way, from the infantrymans point of view, of effecting a river crossing than moving into a bridgehead that had already been secured. Yet there remained the possibility that the move might prove to be a leap from the frying pan into the fire. True, the great barrier of the Moselle had been conquered, via the 319th Infantrys bridge at Toul, but there remained what might be an even more formidable obstacle - the Foret de Haye. There could be no detouring that forest, for it extended the whole nine miles across the width of the area within the big bend of the Moselle; that is, it extended from the river on the right to another part of the river on the left. Its depth included about six of the nine miles between Gondreville and Nancy. That it might be a major obstacle was indicated in the mass of intelligence reports which had reported, from time to time, all kinds of German troop concentrations within its area. Already, in Normandy, men of the 134th had become acquainted with the viciousness of tree-bursting artillery; again they could envision the difficulties of seeking out completely hidden positions, of advancing against the demoralizing ricochets of small arms fire, of running into the fine wires of mines and booby traps.
Brig. Gen. Edmund B. Sebree assembled the unit commanders of his task force that evening in his headquarters in Fort de Gondreville - another of the huge forts characteristic of the area. In a voice filled with determination, he addressed the officers who crowded into the big room. "Tomorrow morning we go for Nancy," he said, "our objective is the high ground west of Nancy, but with that we will get the city; I know that we ordinarily do not attack for ground as such, but tomorrow I want that high ground; let nothing interfere with that objective. I dont want to hear of any cases of battle fatigue tomorrow; so far the 134th Infantry already has taken 2,500 casualties, and theyll take that many more if necessary to get the job done. Well attack in a column of regiments, 319th Infantry leading . . ." He went on to express his doubt of serious opposition and his confidence in success.
The order, as confirmed in writing, took this form:
1. ENEMY SITUATION: The establishment of the bridgehead N of here by the 80th Inf Div has attracted a considerable amount of enemy. The 35th Div having crossed in the south, it is believed that the enemy is not in great strength. About 6 trains observed this afternoon moving north. Were attacked by Air Corp and arty also concentrated on above-mentioned target. There is every indication that the enemy is moving out of this sector.
2. This TF attacks, seizes and holds the high ground generally along the north-south grid line 82 which is in the eastern edge of FORET DE HAYE. Axis of advance - TOUL-NANCY hwy. Formation for the atk - regiments in column. Time of atk - 0600, 15 Sept 44, Ld - present frontline. Boundaries between regiments upon reaching the obj is the TOUL-NANCY hwy, include to 134th Inf.
3. a. 319th Inf (-) 1 Bn; w/1 tank Co, 1 plat 654 TD Bnm 691 TD Bn, 1 plat 633 AAA atchd, will atk on a 400 to 600 yd front astride the TOUL-NANCY hwy and seize the high ground which runs along north-south grid line 80. Prepare to advance on Div obj. They will protect the flanks of their column initially.
b. 134th Inf (-) 1 bn; w/Co A, 654 TD Bn (-1 plat); 1 Co 633 AA (-1 plat) are in TF reserve. One (1) Bn will follow the 319th Inf prepared to assist that regt in securing the obj. The remainder of the regt will assemble vic GONDREVILLE prepared to move by motor on order.
c. Arty will fire 15-minute preparation beg at 0600. Support the advance by arty concentration. Also will fire counter-btry & interdiction missions.
d. Engrs: Atchmts as per combat teams.
e. Medics: Atchmts as per combat teams.
4. Adm details later.
5. The plan is to advance as rapidly as possible, the spearhead of the TF to by-pass as much of the enemy as possible and get on the obj. TF CP initially will be here. Col. Ellsworth will be with the tanks initially. Col. Miltonberger will be here. When Col. Davidsons regt reaches its obj, deploy to the S on the high ground. The 134th Inf will deploy on the N of the hwy.
There was reason to believe that General Sebrees confidence was well founded. This became more clear late that night when men from Company Ls outpost brought in three Frenchmen who said that they had just come from Nancy. Those three Frenchmen had been sent by the F.F.I. in Nancy to seek coordination of the American attack with an uprising in the city. They informed the American staff of the locations and types of mines; they would be available to serve as guides in leading American columns into the city; they pleaded for cancellation of a proposed aerial bombardment of Nancy. Best news for the infantryman was their report that the Germans had withdrawn from the forest. Reconnaissance patrols from Company L confirmed this. Not only was Nancy spared the bombing, but General Sebree even cancelled the artillery preparation which had been scheduled to precede the attack.
Quiet reigned, then, as the first squads of the 319th Infantry moved out at 0600. Initially that regiment had been ordered to attack on a front of 400 to 600 yards. By 830, however, leading companies of the 319th Infantry were marching down the smooth asphalt road in route column with only patrols moving through the woods to protect the flanks; then infantrymen mounted tanks to speed forward.
Though the enemy appeared to have departed from this area, there still was some reason for concern. There might remain devices just as dangerous to those coming within their effective area as direct artillery - a highway through a wooded area (where there would be little opportunity for vehicles to leave the road) was a place to expect mines. Leaders hoped that the withdrawal had been too rapid to permit the laying of effective mine fields, and they were sure that a speedy movement was the best way of insuring themselves against the return of German patrols which might attempt such projects.
The 134th Infantrys 1st Battalion mounted trucks to follow closely behind the leading regiment while the 3rd Battalion assembled near the western edge of the forest, and later began marching down the road until the trucks could return to pick it up. A ditch across the road delayed the column for some time as its head neared the objective, but engineers worked rapidly to bridge it, and the column moved on boldly. So far, mines had not been encountered.
On reaching the objective, however, the tanks moved off the highway to deploy on either side of it. Only then, after coming that far with no difficulty, did some of them strike anti-tank mines. At this point 1st Lt. Flory M. Muehl of Wisconsin, 1st Battalion anti-tank platoon leader saw the desirability of getting his anti-tankers into position as soon as possible. He told his driver to turn his jeep around, and back up the road he went to get his platoon. But, as the jeep rolled along in no apparent danger, meeting columns of vehicles still moving forward, there was that incomparably sudden, tremendous explosion characteristic of an anti-tank mine. It was only by a miracle that Muehl escaped with his life, but his wounds were so severe that this was the end of combat for him. He had been the victim of a mine on a road already passed over (mostly on the opposite side) by scores of tanks and tank destroyers and trucks.
Its mission accomplished when the high ground to the west of Nancy was occupied; Task Force Sebree was dissolved, and while the 319th Infantry returned to join the 80th Division in its attacks on the north of the big bend, Col. Boatmans 1st Battalion, on tanks and trucks, swept into the city. Col. Woods 3rd Battalion then moved up to positions on the northern edge of the city.
Meanwhile, forces of the underground had been taking things into their own hands inside Nancy. At 1045, M. Peeters, president of the Committee of Liberation, and Major Pierret-Gerard, chief of insurrectionists, appeared at the city hall to notify M. Schmitt that he no longer was mayor of Nancy; M. Prouve immediately was installed as the new mayor. Then there followed those most anxious of moments. Would the Americans arrive soon? Would the Germans try to come back?
At 11:10 the first American tanks, carrying men of the 134th Infantry, arrived. Within 20 minutes a new commissaire de la republique, M. Chailley-Bert, was installed, and immediately he issued a proclamation to the population:
NANCY IS FREE
but the battle is continuing at the gates of the city where Frenchmen and Americans are uniting their efforts.
When a wandering German officer had gone into Nancy during the last days of the occupation, according to a story in the New York Sun, he had
found the city full of German troops, unconscious of their doom, drinking and singing, playing musical instruments, and dancing with and making love to French girls. Not till the bullets began to whiz about their ears in Nancy, did the Germans suspect that these French girls who were ostensibly fraternizing with them, were secret agents of the Resistance, waiting to hear news of orders for them to pull out. That was the signal for street fighting to begin. You had to be on the inside of the underground to know that.
Now as the 134th Infantry moved into the city, wild, happy throngs lined the streets, and crowds filled the great open square - Place Stanislas - to acclaim the liberators. There were still some snipers and small groups for the 1st Battalion to clean out, while excited Frenchmen ran about seeking to ferret out snipers, German stragglers, collaborators.
Captain Abbott hurried into the downtown area to look for a good location for the regimental C.P. He succeeded in taking over the whole Hotel Thier, and it still was early afternoon when regimental headquarters moved into that attractive location.
Joyful crowds swarmed through the streets all afternoon and evening. Nancy was free! Among the papers to come to the Regiment was a record of the anxieties of the people of Nancy which some citizens had written during those trying days of waiting - while the 134th waited at Aix-en-Othe -
The people of Nancy and their neighbors have been put to a hard trial. Perhaps never, during their whole lives, have they realized as they do now, the significance of these words: to wait.
Not only for heart and mind, supported by hope, and always anticipating a little the events; but also for news, since four years featured by a life agitated from thousands of rumors, echoes, hopes, deceptions, very often from painful events, want of food - aside from a few fortune-privileged people or some very shrewd cheats.
And there were also the partings: prisoners, workmen sent into Germany, and cruel griefs of those who die in exile, maybe near no one, but far from those who they wanted to see, martyrs to the national cause, of whom we never will dismiss our thoughts in dismay through all the savage cruelty exerted by German agents.
At last we were near escape from this nightmare. News followed news, each better than the other.
Paris liberated herself. The first part of the American 3rd Army, led by its famous General Patton, was speeding toward us like a gloves finger. Chalons sur Marne was already taken, Reims was falling, Vitry-le-Francois was liberated, and, on the wings of fancy, many of our citizens were speaking with certainty of Bar-le-Duc, Fougerolles, and even - that was curious and even a little astonishing - of Luneville.
But its true that many people, without consulting either the map or the reasoning, yield themselves to the witchery of pictures expected and caressed by fancy the more easily as all this ends by a kind of a little dizzy attitude - like a good wine stimulus does for a host ready to sit joyfully at the most beautiful feast of his life.
Then the till now fine weather, increased by a tropical heat, began to darken. Rain is now falling, pressed, thick, heavy, grey, as for drowning more easily the watings excessive excitation, and which, at this time, has no bounds.
One particularly heavy afternoon, under a pitiless sunshine, all the German services, officers, shoulder-knots (flunkies, valets, menials), scum collected in Nancy for 4 years, wavered in an extravagance of war, broke heavily upon every road leading to the Reich with thousands of queer vehicles which had been stolen, borrowed, taken away from the owners, and was like the smoke of a half-dried grass fire which dislodges thousands of insects that have earthed themselves in a thicket.
On the following days the whole resources of a retreating army unfurled. Heavy and powerful trucks doubled by weighty cars. One of these vehicles was crushed against a wall at the Avenue Boufflers declivity. Never its occupants would see again the "Great Reich" as they said. This wild column was covered with boughs, nests, the most complicated and also the most improvised things for hiding themselves before the look-out man bent from his plane above this bewildered flight. An old Lorraine woman of the surrounding country found the right words. She found that it was like a procession decorated for Corpus Christi Day, but that this people were thinking more about saving themselves than about God.
Feverishly this night, the Nanceen waited.
Would they come, the prodigious drivers from beyond the seas, the drivers of rapid tanks, in a word, those who ought to charge in a folly their palpitating pango.
No, they did not come.
Better informed people knew that the three columns of the 3rd Army, which started respectively from Revigny, St. Dizier, and the country of Joinville, stopped in their rush.
The first, because she met a strong German withdrawal (action) propped against the Argonne, and advantaged by the Aires valley pass. Verdun, St. Mihiel had been firstly overflowed, and again occupied by Germans, and at last taken again after heavy battles.
During this time the 2nd column arrived on the level of Flirey was slackening his push, doubtless for preventing a German sally between Metz and Nancy. And of the Joinvilles column, no news. Time was now fire again, with a light autumns wind, yellow leaves and this first melancholic impressions which belong to autumn, in simile something tired, of a nature soon going, like a glory of the German Army, into the grave.
Nancy was quiet again, very quiet, too quiet for the impatient Nanceen.
As the occupier took away, with a little violent proceedings, all the bicycles, the town was soon only a passer-by city. No car was circulating, but sometimes here or there a lonely German tank escorted and guarded by soldiers, with rifles in hand.
News was murmured in the streets: soon men would not go out of their homes, every circulation would cease, phone lines would be cut.
Incidents started in different places because of a tardy arrest by the Gestapo, or of resistance of a boy, more courageous than the others, and who did not want to give his bicycle, knocked with his aggressor.
During the night, a lonely plane had been prowling above the city and dropped bombs, one on the Leopold Avenue, the others on the old ducal district. Why did it do it? Nobody could say.
Hours followed hours, extraordinary news was always coming from north of France, Belgium, Holland. Lost Germany seemed to turn around on the same place. But always around before Nancy, good news for stopping as if it were wanting for breath, or for wings in the purpose of the last soaring.
On Tuesday, the 5th, in the morning, big guns shot from daylight till about noon. The radio, whose reporters, like the Nanceen, took their wish as reality, did announce the liberation of the Lorraine capital, Stanislas city.
This day, Radio-National informed that the Germans raised Pont-a-Mousson and that American tanks were going down the side-hills along the Moselle, for cutting off all retreat to crowded German columns which directed themselves toward the safety bridge.
With Nancy safely in the hands of the 134th Infantry, the 2nd Battalion was relieved of its mission on the Moselle, and brought up to the Foret de Haye to clean out any Germans which might have been by-passed in the rapid thrust toward Nancy. Company E had the task, in carrying out this new mission, of moving up to Fort Frouard in the Northeast part of the forest. The company, filled with replacements since its misfortune at Flavigny, was moving in trucks behind the leading jeep of its company commander. First Lieutenant William E. Powell, commanding Company E since Major McDannel had gone to battalion, was leading his company through a wooded area known to be a region of possible danger, but apparently abandoned now of all organized groups of enemy. But it was no remaining group of enemy which now went into action. Men riding the leading 2 ½-ton truck replacements who sensed a nervousness always to make itself felt in approaching the enemy or the unknown saw their company commanders jeep enveloped in flame and smoke and dust as waves of concussion jarred their ears. In the complete destruction of the jeep, Company E lost its commander as well as the driver, T/5 Frank H. Murray.
It was a forlorn hope for men of the 134th Infantry that they might have a few days in which to enjoy the luxury of their newly won city. If the Third Army was going to have to halt its drive again, those infantrymen could think of no better place for defense than Nancy. That, however, would have been a greater surprise than the order which came, for its nature had by now become a familiar pattern: attack.
Nancy had been liberated, but Nancy would not be safe from observed artillery fire until the heights east of the city across the Meurthe River had been taken.
The order to continue the attack for that high ground, after a warning at 0830 (16 September) to permit some reconnaissance, was issued at 1000 hours. The order contemplated a crossing in column of battalions, the 1st following the 3rd, at a point a short distance below a dam where the river was reported to be fordable (designated as site "A"). At the same time, however, it was directed that one rifle company of the 1st Battalion should cross in assault boats at a point over a mile upstream (to the right) in the vicinity of Tomblaine. This company not only would create diversion away from the main crossing, but it would be in a position to seize Tomblaine and the site where it was planned to put in a treadway bridge. The 2nd Battalion was to continue its mission in the Foret de Haye, prepared to relieve the 1st Battalion in Tomblaine. The Regiment was to launch its attack at noon. Even this was not too much time for adequate reconnaissance, but it was more than it had been possible to have for most previous attacks, and battalion and company commanders made full use of it.
Major Wood set up his O.P. in a mill directly overlooking the crossing site which he had selected within his area, and Captain Greenlief, whose Company L would be leading the assault, oriented his platoon leaders and issued his company order. The 3rd Battalion had started moving toward the river from its position above Maxeville on time. The column drew a few rounds of artillery fire as it marched down the face of a hill, but then it disappeared from enemy view among the buildings of Nancy.
Company A had drawn the assignment to make the boat crossing near Tomblaine, and now, as the 3rd Battalion marched toward the river opposite Malzeville, Lt. Kjems led his company down across the Marne-Rhine Canal, and prepared to put 17 engineer assault boats into the water. (Handling the boats in the water would be men of Company A, 60th Engineers.)
With good machine gun and mortar support, as well as an artillery preparation directed at the higher ground of the objective, Company Ls riflemen plunged into the swift waters of the river, and waded across in a depth of two to three feet. The whole company was across within 15 minutes. There was some delay, then, when the battalion anti-tank platoon found it necessary to manhandle its 57mm guns across the river while the 1 ½ ton prime-mover crept along behind. Presently, however, Company I was moving, then Major Wood and his command group, and finally Company K now wading with the support of a guy rope which the engineers had strung across the river.
Apparently the 3rd Battalions attack had caught the enemy off balance. It was known that there was enemy opposite the crossing site - Major Wood had discovered that and the fact was emphasized by a few more rounds through in drawing some rifle shots as he made his reconnaissance, the window of the O.P. But there was no organized defense to stop the attack, and it progressed with little serious opposition. It seemed that the German defenders had been expecting a crossing near the Malzeville bridge (below where the 3rd battalion had drawn artillery fire), and, as a result, this attack had hit the flank of his defenses.
Meanwhile Company As attack had been going as well. Minutes in an assault boat making for a hostile river shore are dreadful minutes, for in the face of an organized defense the boats may become as ducks sitting on a pond - with no wings on which to fly away. Company A, however, made the crossing quickly and efficiently, with the result that it was decided to send the whole 1st Battalion across at site "B."
Succeeding waves, however, did not enjoy quite the same degree of immunity which had been the fortune of Company A. The first wave evidently awakened the Germans to the threat against them, and they were able to bring fire on the boats as they brought the other companies. But it was too late to turn back the 1st Battalion.
By evening, the 1st Battalion had Tomblaine and the ground beyond, and the 3rd Battalion had Company L in Malzeville and Companies I and K on the objective, the near edge of the Plateau de Malzeville, a table-topped hill whose wooded slopes rose 620 feet above the Meurthe River.
As soon as the high ground to the immediate front had been taken, engineers of the 1135th Engineer (C) Group set to work putting in a treadway bridge at Tomblaine and a Bailey bridge at Malzeville. At 1300 the next day (17 September), traffic began moving across the Bailey, and an hour later the treadway was open. With supplies available now, the battalions could resume their attacks.
That same afternoon the 1st Battalion struck out to the northeast. Platoons ran into small arms and artillery fire in Essey-les-Nancy, but the battalion renewed a coordinated attack at 1800. By nightfall, leading elements were fighting, with the valued assistance of tanks, against continuing resistance in Pulnoy - a town more that four kilometers northeast of Tomblaine.
Its task completed in the Foret de Haye (one attached engineer squad had removed 103 mines in one day), the 2nd Battalion assembled immediately west of Nancy, and sent Company G to relieve Company L in Malzeville.
This permitted the 3rd Battalion to consolidate its position and concentrate upon making its hold on the high ground secure. Captain Greenliefs L Company encountered some machine gun fire as it moved over to the right toward Company K; the opposition was overcome with the assistance of tank destroyers - in another example of the successful use of T.D.s for offensive action. It was late in the evening before the objectives were taken. Company K, after encountering strong resistance at Dommartment, moved up to seize Butte St. Genevieve, a rounded appendage of the Plateau de Malzeville. The stage was set for a renewal of the attack all along the line next day.
Once more the 134th Infantry was the central unit of Task Force Sebree. It appeared that an effort was about to be made to strike a decisive blow in this sector. Indeed, it appears that leaders still were nursing hope for another breakout. The Corps objective was said to be Mannheim, Germany! Capt. Milton Maurer, regimental motor officer, was having all kinds of headaches trying to find a place in Nancy for the 43 Quartermaster trucks which had been attached to the Regiment in anticipation of a resumption of rapid, mobile warfare. He was competing for space with the newly arrived 6th Armored Division which was just completing a move all the way across France from Brest. Already combat commands of the 4th Armored Division were driving deep into enemy territory from the area of the 320th Infantry to the south, and the 80th Division to the north. At the same time, the 137th had come upon the right of the 134th, and the 80th Division was fighting its way southward in an effort to meet the 35th.
After some late adjustments in plans, the 134th jumped off on 18 September at 1000 hours. This time it was throwing everything; all three battalions were attacking generally to the north. No continuos enemy defense line appeared, or rather the opposition was not of a uniform tenacity, but each battalion did, before the attack was very old, come under fire.
The 2nd Battalion, attacking north from the vicinity of Malzeville very soon ran into a stubborn resistance. German machine guns, cleverly concealed on the wooded slopes of the plateau, were delivering fire into the flank, and every foot of ground gained was at high cost. Leaders of the 2nd Battalion here faced a particularly trying situation. They were taking into battle companies whose fighting strength was made up chiefly of replacements. This battalion was making its first major attack since its unfortunate losses at the bridge at Flavigny. The results were an indictment of the whole replacement system. The replacement system had been inaugurated in an attempt to get away from what had been the common practice in previous wars when "it had been the accepted practice to organize as many divisions as manpower resources would permit, fight those divisions until casualties had reduced them to bare skeletons, when withdraw them from the line and rebuild them in a rear area." Actually it frequently was the case in this war to fight divisions until they were bare skeletons, and then just keep on fighting them and refill their ranks with replacements without any withdrawal from the line. The arrival of replacements had brought the 2nd Battalion somewhere near "normal" fighting strength - on paper. But its strength was not the strength it knew before its depletion. The replacement system seemed to deal principally in numbers - so many infantrymen make a regiment. But just as important for the effectiveness of a fighting unit is its esprit de corps. These new men had had no opportunity to become acquainted with the traditions of the regiment, to feel themselves a part of it. They had not even had an opportunity to become acquainted with their leaders or with each other. It is a depressing thing to go into battle as a replacement - the regimental commander had done so in World War I. To face death amongst strangers, with no "buddies" or close acquaintances, means that a man is not going to be able to be at his best. Surveys have shown that ordinarily in combat no more than 15 or 20 per cent of the men actually participate in the firefight; more than that are willing to stay and face the danger, but they do not shoot. In a company filled with replacements this percentage may be much lower. This means a greater burden for the very few remaining "fighters" and greater responsibility - and personal danger - for the leaders. It was a hopeless task, then, which faced the leaders of the 2nd Battalion as they tried to urge their men forward.
In the center, companies of the 3rd Battalion were moving around the wooded edges of the plateau - a plateau which had served as an ideal location for a German airfield. Here, Company K, moving around the right edge reached its objective with little difficulty, but Company I was having a more difficult time of it on the left. Lt. Hydes company was running into some of the same defenses which were proving so troublesome for the 2nd Battalion. Hyde himself moved up to see why the company had halted, but in doing so he exposed himself to enemy fire. He fell seriously wounded as a bullet pierced his head.
The 1st Battalion, meanwhile, had stirred a good fight as it moved north from Pulnoy. It was moving up the broad valley on the right of the 3rd Battalions plateau objective. Selchamps fell to its attack, and the battalion moved on toward new objectives. It did so at the mercy of German observation on the high ground to front and to the right. The 3rd Battalion had secured the Butte St. Genevieve and the southern rim of the Plateau de Malzeville, and so the 1st Battalion could advance across that open ground without concern for its left. The right flank, on the contrary, was exposed, for the 137th Infantry was having a difficult time of its fighting through the Foret de Champenoux, several kilometers to the southeast, (or right rear) of the 1st Battalions position. German observers at Amance, on a high ridge about four kilometers north and northeast of Selchamps, could command at least a thousand yards of the terrain across which the 1st Battalion had to go, but a more immediate obstacle lay directly in the battalions zone of action. It was Paine de Sucre, or Sugar Loaf. This was a key terrain feature. It rose, a knob independent of other hill systems, to a height as great as that of the Plateau de Malzeville, and, affording excellent observation in every direction, it commanded practically the entire valley. This became the immediate objective for the 1st Battalion. In the vanguard of that attack was Sergeant Ralph F. Greely and his machine gun section of Company D. When enemy direct fire guns and small arms fire threatened to halt the advance, Greely set an example in courage which went far in assuring its continuation; he seized a mounted heavy machine gun and dragged it alone to an exposed position where he could support the advance. It cost him his life, but the attack now gathered momentum. Driving Nazi defenders before it, the battalion, in company with Company A of the 737th Tank Battalion, moved steadily along, and its drive for the key terrain feature was not to be denied. Beyond Pain de Sucre, on the northwest, lay a typical French village called Agincourt. This was not the same Agincourt known to history through the exploits of Henry V in the Hundred Years War, but its association with the field of battle was much more real to the men of the 134th. Effective defensive fires poured from Agincourt toward the advancing skirmishers as they came into sight over the western nose of Pain de Sucre. A high velocity tank gun scored a direct hit on one of the supporting Sherman tanks, and it stopped dead and burst into flames. 2nd Lt. Gerald M. Hassel of Wyoming, field artillery observer, hurried forward in order that he might bring effective artillery fire on the enemy positions; but he too came under the fire of the enemy tank and was killed in the attempt. Capt. Francis C. Mason sensed that this was a critical point, and he knew that the only way to reduce the effectiveness of the enemy fire was to keep moving forward. He carried men of Company B along with him; Kjems and Company A remained on his flank, and supporting tanks stayed with them. They swept into Agincourt and began routing the Nazis at close range. American tankers gained revenge in knocking out a dreaded German tank in the streets. Even on forcing entry into the town, the issue had not yet been settled. That remained for decisive action on the part of heroic individuals. It required effort such as that of Sergeant Thaine J. Hale of Nebraska, as critical fighting continued through dusk and evening. Hale was one of a group of some eighty men of the 1st Battalion which suddenly found itself cut off. The immediate response of some to being surrounded is an attitude of resignation. Sergeant Hales reaction was quite the opposite. A veteran platoon guide of Company A, Sergeant Hale had been wounded in Normandy and only recently returned to his company. He was anxious to make up for all the time which he had lost. His personal courage knew no bounds. The 80 men held on to 20 prisoners which they had captured and took refuge in barns along one of the streets. It was clear that their continued safety demanded immediate action. Sergeant Hale moved quickly. He ran out into the confusion of the village, making his way through growing darkness by the unsteady glow of the burning tank, found an American tank outside the village, and jumping on it, he directed it to the vicinity of his trapped comrades. At this point it was discovered that the tank was without a machine gunner. Sergeant Albert Rogers of Kansas, a machine gun squad leader among the encircled men in Agincourt, rushed out to fill this vacancy. He climbed into the tank and got its valuable machine gun into action. The tank fire was effective in dispersing the German forces and permitting the Americans to rejoin their units; but during the maneuvering in the streets, while Thaine Hale rode the tank to rescue those 80 men, he met his own death.
Already in position on the Plateau de Malzeville were the firing batteries of the 161st Field Artillery. Major Shuster, always one to follow the attack closely, was on the plateau shortly after the jump-off, and machine guns and rifle bullets still cracked across the erstwhile Nazi airfield as the howitzers went into position.
With most of the regimental objectives won - albeit not without some difficult fighting - even more ambitious objectives were assigned for the morrow. In addition to the normal combat team attachment (principally the 161st Field Artillery and Company A, 60th Engineers), other units had been attached to the Regiment to give additional power to the task force. These had included Company A, 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company A, 737th Tank Battalion; and the 127th Field Artillery Battalion (155 howitzers). Now, according to the order, the 2nd Battalion would attack straight to the north at 0700 to capture the town of Chamois and continue the attack to the north, and the 1st Battalion would jump off at 1000 for the heights at Amance (five kilometers northeast of Pain de Sucre) and continue to Bouxieres-aux-Chenes (two kilometers north-northwest of Amance). The 3rd Battalion was to follow the 1st, prepared to attack in either direction.
Between the time when this order was issued (1900 on 18 September) and the hour for which the attack was scheduled, the enemy executed some plans of his own. He was not yet ready to give up such a key terrain feature as Pain de Sucre. In the complete darkness of 0300 hours, men of Companies A and C, in a defense organized late the preceding evening, sought to gain some rest for the coming attack. A torrent of machine gun fire and heavy, accurate barrages of mortar fire, announced the coming of the counterattack. Men of the 1st Battalion were quick to respond, but very quickly enemy soldiers were amongst them, bring confusion in their midst. Heavy casualties added further to the confusion of the situation, as some of the finest leaders of the 1st Battalion died that night. Sergeant Philip G. Blair of Utah, was one of those soldiers whose potentials had not displayed themselves completely during training. His physique had not always been able to withstand the rigors of long marches and vigorous exercise in the hot Alabama sun. But since the opening battles in Normandy, he had driven himself with a determination that had made him one of the most valuable noncommissioned officers in Company A, and his endurance had carried him safely all the way through. Now, however, the odds had become too great, and he was killed in action during these operations. Then there was Lt. Constant J. Kjems, whose leadership since taking command of Company A at Fort de Pont St. Vincent had been exemplary; early in the counterattack he too was killed in action.
Lt. Edward K. Hum of Ohio, executive officer of Company A, immediately assumed command, and led what men he could find in the darkness into the thick of a close range and even hand-to-hand fight. With the coming of dawn, Lieutenant Hum discovered that he and eleven of his men remained on the high ground, surrounded by the enemy. It was a test of leadership to get those men through the enemys position, but, blessed with a light fog, Hum met the test and rejoined his company which had withdrawn to a low ridge some distance to the south of the hills.
Another group of men found itself in similar circumstances. Staff Sergeant George W. Daugherty, Sergeant Penn D. Soland, Sergeant Harold H. Schultz, and Private First Class Hobert Hunt likewise found themselves isolated. They kept up sniper fire until three of them decided that they could infiltrate through the enemy positions to rejoin their units. Sergeant Schultz remained in position to fire while his companions made the attempt. They were successful, and some time later, Schultz too was able to make his was to safety.
With the loss of the Sugar Loaf and the heavy casualties to the 1st Battalion, it was quite obvious that the plans for the attack scheduled that day (19 September), would have to be altered. The 2nd Battalion, nevertheless, could proceed with its attack on time (0700), and did so with little initial opposition.
Once again, however, when considerable opposition did spring up, the men froze to the ground. Exposing himself in an effort to get the attack underway again, Capt. Glenn W. Saddler, who had taken command of Company F after Flavigny, was forced out of action and Lt. Bibby took command of that company.
Meanwhile, conferences were proceeding at the C.P. of the 1st Battalion where Major Craig, acting regimental executive officer, Major Wood of the 3rd Battalion, and Colonel Boatsman of the 1st Battalion were meeting with General Sebree to consider means of bringing the 3rd Battalion into the picture to effect a recapture of the Sugar Loaf. In a telephone conversation with the corps chief of staff, General Sebree was told the hill should be retaken, but then to prepare to hold.
At first a plan was offered which would have brought the 3rd Battalion around to the rear to attack through the 1st Battalion. Major Wood preferred a plan more obvious to him - to attack directly to the east from his advantageous position on the Plateau de Malzeville. The would be across the front of the 1st Battalion, and that unit would be in a position to assist the attack by fire. It would be necessary, however, to protect the left flank by containing Agincourt.
This view prevailed, and, with two platoons of tanks and one platoon of T.D.s, the 3rd Battalion launched its attack at 1330 after a 10-minute artillery preparation. It was a model for tank-infantry attacks. From the vicinity of "Five Corners" (the junction of five roads near St. Genevieve Farm at the point where the Butte St. Genevieve joined the Plateau de Malzeville) one platoon of infantry from Company K - five men on each tank - rolled down the Agincourt road (alongside the plateau) to the northeast, while the second platoon of tanks - and its platoon of mounted infantrymen - moved down the road which ran to the east along the Butte St. Genevieve). Company Ks support platoon and Company L followed on foot. As the tanks reached the bottom of the valley and crossed the highway, both columns fanned out to form a single irregular skirmish line, and, behind their own continuos machine gun fire and sporadic 75mm cannon fire, they began to advance up Sugar Loaf hill. Until masked by the advancing troops, the 1st Battalion continued in effective diversionary fire from the south. Meanwhile, Company I and the tank destroyers followed on the left column down the slope, and when the preceding platoons turned toward the hill, the company "peeled off" and continued toward Agincourt. It was here that the most serious opposition developed, but Company I was "containing Agincourt," and the attack toward the main objective was progressing smoothly. By 1345 the tanks were three-fourths of the way up the hill, and by 1410 they were on the crest. At this moment an anti-tank gun from a neighboring hill scored a direct hit on the command tank - on which Lt. Jack Campbell, commanding Company K, was mounted; fortunately there was no serious injury. Company I continued its fight in Agincourt under Lt. James Cecka, who had gone from Company M to take command after Lt. Hyde was hit, for some time yet, but finally, after another tank had been destroyed in the streets, occupied the town.
The achievement had been in taking quickly, and with almost negligible casualties, and objective which the Germans had prized highly enough to make a counterattack for its recapture less than 12 hours before. Adequate reconnaissance, close cooperation of tanks and infantry, clearly assigned tasks for each unit, supporting and diversionary fire, an approach from a new direction, and skillful, precise, dynamic execution had contributed to the result.
But once again the enemy came back in an effort to regain possession of the key terrain feature. At first it was only a slight infiltration into Agincourt at 0500, but 15 minutes later, it was apparent that it was a full-scale attack against both Agincourt and Pain de Sucre.
Again there was the tense, close-range fighting in the darkness. Technical Sergeant Charles Ostrom of Oregon, a K Company platoon sergeant, noticed two German soldiers, armed with machine guns, crawling up the slope toward the battalion anti-tank gun in the companys area. Ostrom crept down to close range and threw hand grenades to kill both; but as he make his way back to his platoon, he himself was killed by enemy fire. A few minutes later, that same anti-tank gun stopped a tank which was supporting the German attack. Rifles, mortars, machine guns, grenades, were resounding all over the hill.. Messengers, artillery observers, all were firing in a determined effort. This time Companies K and L, closely coordinated, had been set for an attack.
Company I was having a more difficult time. German squads moved in to overwhelm the command post, and several other small groups. In one of the houses so surrounded, Staff Sergeant Huston Temple of Tennessee, a squad leader, saw that he could not expect to hold out against this surprise force, but, on the other hand, neither was he willing to surrender. Therefore, he ordered his men to find their way out, and he opened fire to cover their withdrawal. The enemy sent up flares as the Germans waited for the men to surrender, but Temple, moving rapidly from one window to another to create an illusion of numbers, was able to fire accurately in the light flares, and he took a heavy toll among his would-be captors. Then he made his own escape without injury.
Agincourt was lost, but the principal feature - the Sugar Loaf - had held: at 0630 it was reported, "everything under control on the hill." And Agincourt, without dominating Pain de Sucre, was an empty holding. At noon a terrific artillery shelling was brought down on the town, and late in the afternoon it was found to be clear. The next day a patrol counted 42 German dead in Agincourt. Pain de Sucre was secure. A news dispatch in the New York Times noted:
One of the sharpest battles for strong points behind the lines is now raging at "Sugar Loaf Hill," four miles from Nancy. The hill changed hands for the third time yesterday when it was retaken by American infantry, but they had to fight off a German counterattack a few hours later.
While the 3rd Battalion concerned itself with consolidating its hold on Pain de Sucre and the 1st Battalion continued reorganization (Company B now was on the Plateau de Malzeville reinforcing the 3rd Battalion), the 2nd Battalion renewed its attack to the north. Colonel Walkers battalion had extended its zone to the right in order to take over some of the area formerly held by the 3rd Battalion when that unit assembled for its attack on the Sugar Loaf, Company G, in the zone formerly assigned to Company I, led the attack. It moved toward a hill which was an appendage of the plateau. It moved with the support of a platoon of tank destroyers. But the terrain was not easy, and the Germans still held to the well-concealed positions which had been so effective in stopping previous attacks. Once again the deadly fire opened up from those entrenched positions on the right flank. Once again it appeared that the attack would bog down. But at this point, Staff Sergeant Junior Spurrier undertook some decisive action. He ran back to one of the supporting T.D.s, climbed upon it, and grasped the handles of the .50 caliber machine gun (a weapon mounted primarily for anti-aircraft defense). Directing the T.D. toward the flanking fire (in another heretical use of the T.D. "as a tank"), he opened fire with the awe-inspiring .50 caliber machine gun. Almost immediately its deadly effectiveness gained fire superiority for him. As enemy soldiers fell and fled before the approaching iron monster, Spurrier jumped to the ground and ran close to the dugout to complete destruction of its occupants with hand grenades.
He remounted the tank destroyer and proceeded to clean out a second position in similar fashion. Naturally, the tank destroyer was drawing enemy fire, but Spurrier remained to reach the summit of the hill and to capture 22 prisoners. The exploits won for the West Virginia soldier a Distinguished Service Cross and widespread acclaim as a "one-man army." Now the whole company was moving forward. Other emplacements held out against direct T.D. fire, but with the assistance of white phosphorous grenades, resistance was broken.
Hardly less spectacular was the action of another G Company soldier, Private First Class Thomas G. Holt of Mississippi. An automatic rifleman, Holt jumped aboard a tank destroyer to man its vacant .50 caliber machine gun, and though blown from his position by a near shell burst, he scrambled right back up to maintain a stream of highly effective supporting fire for his comrades.
Task Force Sebree had been dissolved the preceding afternoon and now the Regiment was operating again directly under division control. Anxious to get this area cleared out, General Eddy, corps commander, kept up with the situation by direct telephone conversations, and that afternoon (22 September) he, with General Baade, visited the C.P. They were calling for a continuation of the attack to the north - toward a meeting with the 80th Division.
Early in the morning of the 23rd, the 1st Battalion moved across the Plateau de Malzeville to take up positions on the right of the 2nd Battalion in preparation for a coordinated attack - to be launched on division order - toward the Bois de Faulx. Previously intelligence reports had indicated that an enemy force of approximately 1700 men - including elements of the 1119th Grenadier Regiment, the 1120th Grenadier Regiment, the 1121st Grenadier Regiment, the 92nd Luftwaffe Regiment, and the 593rd Flak Battalion - occupied Bois de Faulx.
While the 1st and 2nd Battalion awaited orders to attack, the 6th Armored Division moved out of corps reserve at 0700 for a thrust to the east.
Time for the 134ths attack was set for noon. Immediate objectives were Lay St. Christopher for the 1st Battalion, and Bouxieres-aux-Hames for the 2nd. Most serious obstacle of the terrain for those battalions was a deep draw paralleling the front through which ran a railroad and a small stream. They soon learned that the enemy had the railroad well covered with fire. The 2nd Battalion had two companies across the railway by 1435, but they were unable to get up the open slopes to the front. Mortar and machine gun fire became more intense with the approach of darkness. Company A at last was able to reach the objective at 1940, and Company B moved up 45 minutes later. The 2nd Battalion, however, still was unable to make any progress.
In order to create a diversion, a special force - made up of T.D.s, the I and R Platoon, and a part of the Anti-Tank Company - was formed into "Task Force Magruder." The Anti-Tank Commander moved his group back across the Meurthe River, and moved down the west bank to a position opposite the flank of the enemy facing the 2nd Battalion. At 2230 the force opened fire with 57mm gun, 3-inch gun, .50 caliber, and .30 caliber machine guns. It created a tremendous uproar along the river, and resulted in material assistance to the advance of the 2nd Battalion.
During the afternoon Pain de Sucre had proved its value as an observation post. Already enemy had been seen withdrawing from Eulmont and generally from in front of the 1st Battalion as it attacked north of the plateau, and General Eddy had called from corps headquarters to say "air having a field day." Then at 1520, Lieutenant Campbell, Company K, reported to his battalion that there was a long column of enemy infantry, horse and tractor-drawn artillery, including heavy pieces, and command cars, moving north in the vicinity of Moulins (about three miles north of Pain de Sucre); he requested an air strike in the most urgent terms, and in the meantime, corps and division artillery would fire on the column. Campbell reported the progress of the column, and at 1543, Major Wood called Regimental Headquarters "begging for an air strike." Fighter-bombers already were in the air; hardly more than 15 minutes later planes were swooping down over the target. Again and again planes returned to their prey in attacks which continued for nearly an hour. Results were noted in the regimental S-3 Journal:
1600 - L Co observer reports air is really working German column over moving toward Bouxiers. Maj. Wood says it was complete rout.
1642 - Maj. Wood reports that our planes are dropping gasoline bombs on infantry. Horses running around and Air Corps just raising complete hell with the German withdrawal.
The break had come, and when the 1st and 2nd Battalions jumped off the next morning they were able to advance all the way through the Bois de Faulx without meeting any resistance. The 2nd Battalion made contact with the 80th Division at Custines. The way was cleared for a renewal of the general advance to the east. The 3rd Battalion began moving again - to Eulmont, Moulins, Bouxieres-aux-Chenes. Then, late that afternoon, the 3rd Battalion mounted trucks to move over the main highway - a highway reported to be heavily mined - to Leyr.
Leyr was reported to be in the hands of CCB of the 6th Armored Division, and that unit was to hold it until the arrival of the 134th Infantry. It was something of an embarrassing situation, then, when the kitchen and baggage trucks, carrying the 3rd Battalion, rounded a curve outside Leyr to find that the town was being thoroughly sprayed with machine gun fire from every direction. The 3rd Battalion went into a compact "wagon wheel" defense on a slope south of Leyr pending the outcome of the battle; the 1st Battalion which had been moving to Bey (three miles east of Leyr), returned to Lay St. Christopher to await clarification of the situation.
Early the next morning (24 September), the 3rd Battalion moved into Leyr.
The 1st Battalion was attached to the 6th Armored Division, and it prepared to follow, in trucks, a mechanized drive to the east of the Foret de Gremecey area. But even before that battalion moved out with the armor at 1620, news had come that this could be only a local effort. The whole Third Army was to go over to the defensive.
|Operations terminated successfully at Montargis, they moved on to the east.|
|Prisoners by the hundred at Joigny.|
|Chaplain Reentz found time to hold church services in a school yard near Troyes.|
|As the 2nd Battalion and supporting anti-tank guns forded the Madon River . . .|
|Leaders of the task force met in a great fort near Toul.|
|Going into Nancy|
|Nancy is free (place Stanislaus)|
|The Americans arrive in Nancy|
|It would . . . seize Tomblaine . . . where it was planned to put in a treadway bridge.|
|Tanks helped clean out machine gun nests.|
|Honor to the liberators of Nancy|
|The srcoll presented by the city of Nancy.|
Return to 134th Infantry Regiment Combat History Table of Contents
134th Infantry Regiment Home Page