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
The outstanding feature of a Lorraine landscape is its forest. The height and depth of the woods, the strength of the lofty oaks, beeches, elms, firs, and birches, are typical aspects of the Lorraine forest. They cannot be compared with Fontainebleau or Compiegne. They have a character of their own.
U.S. Army, Lorraine and Nancy
The mud up here has all the substance of pea soup and the penetration of a good horse liniment. It seeps through the lacing of our boots. It finds its way into our food . . . And daily the mud grows deeper. Full rains had already softened up the French soil to bread pudding consistency . . . These lads of the Thirty-fifth Division, made up originally of Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska National Guard units, are veterans.
Virginia Irwin in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Assumption of the defensive was an unusual thing for the 134th Infantry, and it came as something of a blow to the prevailing high confidence which had been nourished on offensive warfare. Not since St. Lo had there been a defensive order issued, and it was clear at that time that such a role would last no longer than a few days. Now, however, came an order to go into a deliberate defensive position, with attention to mine fields (anti-tank and anti-personnel), demolitions, tank traps, road blocks, fields of fire, automatic weapons emplacements, barbed wire tactical and protective and all the rest of it. The order aroused some concern in the minds of the men who heard it, for they could conceive, immediately, of only one reason for resigning the offensive and going into such a deliberate defense an imminent German counterattack!
It was true that there had been some recovery of strength on the part of the Germans since the first week of September there was evidence for this in the crossings of the Moselle, and, more recently, in the great tank battles in which they had engaged the 4th Armored Division in the Dieuze-Luneville areas during the ten days immediately preceding the issuance of this order (24 September). But the German recovery in Lorraine doubtless was related closely to the high command decision, late in August, to divert priorities to the 21st Army Group (Field Marshal Montgomery) for the effort in the north to turn the defenses of the Rhine and of the Siegfried line. That meant slowing down, and finally halting, the Third Army. It was ironic that such a force should have been halted when patrols a few weeks earlier had found little opposition around Metz and even in the Siegfried line itself. Nevertheless, the doughboys, once the reason was made clear, were not too disappointed to accept a relatively stabilized situation and let someone else carry the ball for a while. But there was a bit of irony too in this hope, for the situation during the first several days in the Foret de Gremecey area proved to be anything but a stabilized one.
Yes, the armored columns of the Third Army finally had stopped, but it was a stoppage growing more out of logistical difficulties of keeping up the supply lines than of any resourcefulness on the part of the enemy. Now the area to which the Regiment was assigned for defense was in the zone of the 6th Armored Division. Already the 3rd Battalion had relieved elements of that division in Leyr but then it had been in contemplation of further pursuit of the offensive; on the same assumption the 1st Battalion had been attached to the 6th Armored Divisions Combat Command B, and now was accompanying the armored thrusts beyond Fossieux, Malaucourt, and Jallacourt. Therefore, the 2nd Battalion was assigned the mission of initiating the relief of C.C.B., and preparatory to doing so, it moved up to assemble at Armaucourt.
Late that evening, the 3rd Battalion, leaving Company I for the time being, moved largely on its own jeeps, anti-tank trucks and pioneer truck from Leyr to an assembly position in a woods south of Bey. After reconnaissance on the part of its leaders the next morning (25 September), that battalion began moving into position in the Foret de Gremecey. Actually, it became the first to go into position, because difficulties of coordination with the 80th Division on the left delayed the 2nd Battalions occupation of its sector (that is, the left of the regimental sector).
Troops of the 35th Division occupied something of a salient in this area. The 134th Infantry faced generally north, while the 137th Infantry, on the right, faced generally east.
The Regiments main line of resistance was organized along an irregular line, on a frontage of over 12,000 yards ("normal" frontage for a regiment in defense was supposed to be 2,000 to 4,000 yards), running near the forward edge of the Foret de Gremecey and along the ridge to the left. In front of this position there was a line of towns, two to three kilometers apart; right to left (west to east) they were Fresnes, Jallacourt, Malacourt, Fossieux, and Ajoncourt. Then there was another series of villages near the center of the regimental area. North to south they were Manhoue, Aboncourt, and Alincourt. On the morning of 26 September, the Regimental C.P. opened at Aboncourt.
First indication that this was not to be an unchallenged defensive position came with the 1st Battalions withdrawal to regimental reserve. With units of C.C.B. of the 6th Armored Division, Colonel Boatsmans 1st Battalion already had cleared most of the towns immediately to the front of what now was the Regiments defensive area, and the new order called for withdrawal from some of those newly-won positions. Any withdrawal in the face of the enemy is likely to be loaded with danger, and in this case, the 1st Battalion became involved in a firefight at Fossieux. It was 1615 when the enemy opened fire. One point of difficulty was an American tank which the Germans had captured. A platoon of Company B was given the task of recapturing the tank. As the leading squad worked through the street a shell from a tank gun burst near and killed Pfc. Charles A. Catenazzo. Other members of the platoon moved on, but as they reached the vicinity of the tank, Germans closed in upon them. A few darted into quick hiding one practically beneath the tank but the Nazis were able to get the others and their leader. The rest of B Company meanwhile, moved back to relative safety, but A Company was not able to extricate itself from Fossieux until after dark. Company B was attached to the 2nd Battalion that evening in order to fill a gap between the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. The later moved its C.P. from Alincourt to the Farm Rhin de Bois, and the 1st Battalion (less Company B), went into assembly at Alincourt.
Support for the Regiment was moving over a bridge across the narrow Seille River which had been put up during the darkness of the preceding night by men of the ammunition and pioneer platoons of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions working under the supervision of Captain Thurson J. Palmer, Omaha, of Regimental Headquarters Company.
Patrols during the night of the 26 27 September found enough enemy activity in front of the Regiment to suggest that the defenses were about to be tested. Further evidence of such a threat came with an early morning shelling of Company Fs position. At 0730 enemy infantry, accompanied by two tanks, were reported to be moving south from Oriocourt. Hardly 15 minutes later, strong elements of the German 1120th Infantry, with tank support, had moved through the center of the 134th Infantrys main line of resistance to seize Manhoue. The threat had to be met quickly, and the decision was for Company B to move to the left to support Company F in a counterattack to repel the enemy from the position. That this was a part of a German plan which was seeking to pinch off the whole 35th Divisions area was suggested when reports announced a strong attack against the right of the 137th Infantry; in fact, enemy tanks and infantry had broken through the road block at Chambrey and proceeded all the way to Pettoncourt, where, at 0800, they were being engaged by the 137th Infantrys Service Company! This meant that the enemys spearheads, having effected a penetration amounting to nearly 3,000 yards in the 134ths section, and 5,000 yards in the 137ths, now were no more than 8,000 yards apart, and their junction would mean the surrounding of the bulk of those two regiments. In order to get the regimental reserve up to a position were it would be in a position to block any further penetration, and, at the same time, to provide greater security for the installations of the command post, the 1st Battalion was moved up to Aboncourt (half a mile south of enemy held Manhoue) and the C.P. displaced from that location back to Alincourt. As this was being done, the report came at 0920 that the 137th Infantry had lost Pettoncourt. The enemys strength, however, was not sufficient to conquer the defenses which had been organized behind it, and soon his effort was about spent as far as further offensive action was concerned. Happily for the darkening picture, troops of the 137th were able to retake Pettoncourt very quickly after its loss, and that alleviated a dangerous threat to the rear.
Soon Company Fs efforts with the support of Company B were showing results toward Manhoue. But as the company entered the town it found itself up against close range street fighting. By 1340, nevertheless, it was in possession of Manhoue; two German tanks had been knocked out there.
It still was obvious, however, that the enemy had not given up his designs upon the Foret de Gremecey and the adjacent area. Shortly after noon the 3rd Battalion outpost (a reinforced platoon of Company I), reported that a German company had moved into its rear, and tanks had appeared on its flank; it was ordered to withdraw, and was able to make its way back to the battalion reserve area. German troops continued to move into Jallacourt during much of the afternoon.
Company F had to beat off some local attacks against Manhoue in order to hold it, but no further major attack developed that afternoon. However, it seemed evident that one was forming, and steps were taken to strengthen the Regiments position. The remainder of the 1st Battalion (less Company A held as regimental reserve), moved up to join Company B, so that now all three battalions were in the line, 3rd, 1st, 2nd, right to left. Corps and Division artillery was to continue fire on such points of enemy concentration as Fossieux, Malacourt, Jallacourt, and LaJuree woods. In an order reminiscent of California days, it was directed that there would be a "stand-to" during which every officer and enlisted man was to be alert until an hour after darkness in the evening, and from 0530 to 0730 in the morning. Companies were to establish listening posts to the front with wire (usually sound power telephones) communication. Companies were to report hourly during the night.
German patrols were active again during the night. About midnight one the size of a squad walked by an L Company local outpost (on the 3rd Battalions left). Shortly after, a listening post reported that there was an enemy patrol down near a blown-out bridge on the creek in front of the forest. But the climax in German audacity came when a five-man patrol made its was into the L Company area and pulled a man out of his foxhole and took him prisoner. Another patrol attempted to infiltrate through the left of the 2nd Battalion; one of the enemy threw a hand grenade at a gun position, but a burst of fire broke up that patrol. All companies, and the Regimental O.P., were reporting vehicular movement, tanks, loud talking, flares. At 0400 there was heavy shelling in the area of the 1st and 3rd Battalions. Before 0600 such concentrations of German troops were approaching that both Companies K and L were calling for pre-arranged artillery fire.
Daylight revealed long columns of enemy forces. Tanks, half-tracks, horse-drawn wagons, and artillery were moving along the road between Jallaucourt and Manhoue, and other vehicles appeared on the ridge to the east of Jallaucourt. Obviously here was a target for air attack, but a hurried request for an air strike brought the response that aircraft would not be available before 0900 at the earliest. Other forces were attacking toward Manhoue from a more northerly direction. Nor was it reassuring to learn that tanks and infantry again were attacking the 137th Infantry; it looked like another effort to carry out the mission which intelligence reports had revealed had been assigned these German units just recently arrived from the Metz area to "encircle and clear out the Foret de Gremecey."
At 0710 the tanks were approaching the point on the road toward Manhoue between the 3rd and 1st Battalions. Two of the 3rd Battalions 57mm anti-tank guns were in a position to cover those approaches, and they opened fire. The left gun was able to get off only four rounds two at a tank and two at another vehicle when enemy tanks returned the fire. One man was killed instantly, and six other were wounded in a direct hit on the position. Continuing hostile artillery and small arms fire denied survivors access to the guns. If air power were delayed, the dependable artillery still was at hand, and it began to rake the Nazi column. The German tanks halted, and started moving back toward Jallaucourt. One leading tank had been knocked out, and two others were dragging it away. Artillery fire followed the enemy troops back into the town, and at 0840 Jallaucourt was on fire after an ammunition dump apparently had been hit. At 0900 an air strike was reported to be on the way; but it did not arrive until after 1420, and then it hit Malaucourt instead of Jallaucourt.
Local attacks persisted against Company L and Company E, but, with some effort, including Captain Greenliefs commitment of Company Ls support platoon in a counterattack, the efforts were beaten back, and the line held. Even this seemed to offer no discouragement for the determined enemy an enemy whose boldness seemed to be growing with the lack of American attacks in this sector. A new attack came against Company L just before midnight. There still was cause for some concern in the situation of the 137th Infantry, and Sergeant Jeeter (Texas), of the I and R Platoon spent the night at the 137th C.P. with instructions to report back if "things turn for the worse."
In a meeting with the battalion commanders that evening it was possible to announce that the Third Army was expected to remain on the defensive at least until 15 October, and probably longer. Positions were to be improved; all possible ammunition was to be dumped on the position; overcoats were to be issued to all men. And there was a division order which opened with the categorical statement, "Enemy will attack from Fresnes at 0500 into woods . . ." The general proposed to meet it with an attack of his own. There was to be a 100 percent alert in the division at 0430. The 137th Infantry was to attack at 0500 to regain the edge of the woods which it had lost during the days fighting, and a battalion of the 320th Infantry was to attack on a narrow front to meet the enemy, and then was to hold Hill 282 south of Fresnes.
The attack came all right, though it was a little behind schedule; but so too was the battalion of the 320th Infantry a little late in getting started. The Germans won the race for Hill 282, and then the 3rd Battalion directed some effective artillery fire upon them. They were able to continue, however, to make a penetration through the left company of the 137th Infantry. In order to meet this contingency, Lieutenant Campbell of Company K sent his support platoon to protect the Regiments right flank and to reestablish contact.
Taking advantange of this situation on the right, the enemy now, at 0745, struck again on the left against the 2nd Battalion. This time it was the 1st Battalion of the same 1120th German Infantry Regiment which had attacked before, and it was attacking at Ajoncourt. There was a heavy firefight there, and then the center of activity seemed to shift to the right toward Han. This village of Han, in enemy hands, was developing into a cancer for the regimental defenses, and once more Company F was called upon to eliminate it.
Company F launched its attack upon Han at 1400, and very soon its men were demonstrating that they had lost none of the courage or resourcefulness which had characterized their capture of Manhoue. First they flanked the village cut it off from the east and west, and them moved in for anther effort at street fighting. One of those men leading this assault was Private Thomas J. Wisniewski of Pennsylvania, an automatic rifleman. He moved rapidly, but cautiously toward the village. He sensed the increasing volume of fire bearing down upon him, but he fought back any inclination to hesitate. He hurried toward a group of buildings, but staggered a moment. His left arm felt numb; vaguely he was aware of something warm trickling down the arm. He had been wounded there were two bullet wounds in his arm. Even this was no cause for pause. He had seen the source of some of the troublesome fire a group of Germans in a horse stall in the barnyard ahead. He rushed up to a good range and opened fire. He emptied his 20-round magazine in a single burst. Two of the enemy fell dead, while the others seven of them threw down their rifles and machine pistols to surrender to the wounded soldier who brandished an empty B.A.R. Then there was another Pennsylvania soldier who, though wounded, kept going to the village Pfc. Charles P. Konarski. It was difficult for him to walk in his condition, but he refused to turn back. Once in the village, he entered house after house, without hesitation, seeking out the enemy. Ten of the enemy fell before his assault, and he practically cleared a whole side of the street while the squad on his right moved forward rapidly to encircle the enemy remaining in the vicinity. And then there was the courageous action of Pfc. Melvin L. Jagel of Wisconsin, who kept on fighting even though he was suffering from a severe abdominal wound. Again there was outstanding leadership, leadership of the caliber exhibited by Staff Sergeant Joseph H. Grimes of Maryland, as he led his squad through the streets in the face of terrific fire and was instrumental in the capture of some 20 prisoners. It was a difficult assignment, but there never was a doubt concerning its successful execution. At 1645 F Company had control of Han.
This was the same Company F which had had such difficulty in moving along the railroad north of the Plateau de Malzeville only two weeks before. These were largely men who had come to refill the ranks of the 2nd Battalion after its misfortune at Flaigny. Here was a commentary on the enduring character of a Company, and the carry over of esprit de corps. In this short time, that large group of replacements had been assimilated into the Regiment and had caught its spirit.
A heavy shelling of Company L at 0440, September 30, heralded another attack. At 0600 enemy infantry hit the center of that company. Machine guns and rifles opened fire along a 400-yard front; men of the anti-tank platoon joined the line and began firing anti-tank rockets; artillery and mortar concentrations fell into the ravine in front of the woods with deadly effect. At 0615 Captain Greenlief reported that anti-personnel mines in the woods had killed and wounded a large number of the enemy, but large numbers of others were still coming. At 0645 Major Wood decided to commit his reserve Company I; and fifteen minutes later the regimental reserve Company A went to the assistance of the 3rd Battalion. Lt. William Chavet of Omaha, led Company I up a ravine which ran along the east side of the Farm Rhin de Bois it was the execution of a predetermined plan for counterattack to the area of Company L. When over 30 prisoners had been taken, and Company I reached the edge of the woods to see Germans withdrawing toward Jallaucourt, it seemed that the attack had been stopped. But such was not the case, for other groups of enemy were coming in toward L Companys command post. They had penetrated all the way through the woods in that particular area all the way to the position of a section of Company Ms 81mm mortars.
With the sudden approach of the enemy, the mortar crews had abandoned their guns and joined Company L in its defense. Corporal Homer Gettler of Indiana, and Corporal Paul E. Faulconer of Texas, mortar gunners for the section, were feeling rather helpless in this situation inasmuch as they were armed only with pistols. Then they remembered that they had left a considerable amount of ammunition with their mortars, and those weapons still were in firing condition. Should the enemy seize them he might turn them to the support of his attack. As soon as they had determined the main area of the enemy attack they hurried back to the mortars. Just as they arrived at the position, enemy fire killed Corporal Gettler; but Faulconer was determined to carry out their plan alone. Quickly he aimed the mortar, and then, in rapid succession fired all the remaining shells. Not only did he keep the ammunition from falling into German hands, but he turned it to effective use to break up groups of the approaching Germans.
Meanwhile men of Company L were battling to save their command post. Staff Sergeant Albert Grobe of Oregon, had his trigger finger shot off, but he stood his ground to destroy his assailants; 60mm mortars, in position just outside the woods, proved to be a determining factor with their short range bursts. (Sharing the plight of the beleaguered defenders of the L Company C.P. was Major Wood, who had gone forward during the earlier development of the attack.)
Another "battle of the C.P." developed in Company K. German soldiers had come through the opening in L Company and moved through the woods all the way to K Companys C.P. without encountering any of that companys front line troops. Lt. Edward Kennedy of Pennsylvania, company executive officer, quickly organized his few headquarters men for the defense; he manned a machine gun mounted on a jeep. The firepower was enough to stop the enemy, and then Kennedy had the jeep move down the forest road while he continued to fire. But a sudden rocket from an enemy "Bazooka" demolished the jeep and killed the driver and seriously wounded the other occupants. But the command post had been saved.
There still was a danger to the right, however. The enemy was making another attack against the 320th Infantry, and was threatening the right flank of Company K even while its command post was being attacked from the left. When a machine gun opened fire on the guns of the regimental anti-tank platoon which was protecting that flank, Lieutenant Lyle Reishus, platoon leader, made his way forward and destroyed the enemy crew with two hand grenades. Then he discovered a group of about 30 enemy infantrymen approaching Company Ks exposed right flank. He hurried back to his platoon and organized an effective defense line to protect the flank and rear of Company K and his own guns and equipment.
The situation was under control at K Company by 1430, and now Company A moved up the ravine to join Company I in the counterattack to repel the enemy from the position and restore the line. Lt. Hum, now commanding Company A, was wounded, much to his disgust, early in the encounter. Persistent efforts, however, were effective, and by evening most of the Germans had been driven from the woods.
Now during this action the regimental commander and his S-3 were called to a meeting at the command post of the 320th Infantry. There, crowding in the old French house, were no less than six general officers - the corps commander, the Third Army chief of staff, the 6th Armored Division commander, the commander, assistant commander and the artillery commander of the 35th Division; four full colonels - the division chief of staff and the three regimental commanders; and numerous lieutenant colonels and majors, subordinate staff officers. Shortly after the conference met a large caliber artillery shell burst in the yard just outside a big window. It was almost a million-dollar shell! Actually, one man was killed, several drivers and others were wounded, most of the jeeps parked outside were destroyed, at least partially - nearly all the tires were flat. And the conference adjourned to the basement.
The conference was for consideration of the problems growing out of the weakening of the position of the 137th Infantry, and now the threat to the 134th. The decision called for the abandonment of the Gremecey Forest area and withdrawal behind the Seille River. A regimental order was prepared and issued for withdrawal - the first such order in the Regiment. It called for movement to the rear during the night, with covering forces - one platoon in each battalion - to remain until 0300. However, just as the battalions were beginning their reconnaissance, a telephone message came, just an hour and a half after the order had been issued, announcing that the order had been rescinded. (The Third Army commander, on learning of the proposed withdrawal, is reported to have said, "Withdraw hell, well attack!) At 2320 the commander of Combat Command A of the 6th Armored Division reported to Regimental Headquarters with his plan of attack.
Already the keeper of the 3rd Battalion Journal had noted:
2230 - Tanks start moving into assembly area near C.P, Thank God!
With enthusiasm and belligerency, leaders of the three task forces assembled their unit commanders in the 3rd Battalions C.P. and issued orders and coordinated plans.
The vigorous, positive action of the armored counterattack in its sweep through the left end of the Foret de Gremecey and then through the towns on the ridgeline in front succeeded in discouraging further ambitions of reconquest on the part of the Germans in the area.
It was not that German activity ceased, but it seemed to assume more of a defensive attitude. During the days which followed there was almost continuous artillery firing, work toward the improvement of positions, and patrols. In addition to fire on observed targets - or on specific areas where activity could be heard - there were nightly TOTs (time on target) on such favorite targets as Fossieux, Malaucourt, Jallaucourt, Fresnes, and LaJuree Woods by corps and division artillery. In addition there were frequent air strikes - usually by P-47 Thunderbolts - and the 81mm mortars of the heavy weapons companies (D, H, M), as well as supporting 4.2-inch chemical mortars, joining in to the extent that their ammunition ration would permit. Seeking a greater stability in communications, the communications platoons laid heavy German cable to the companies for telephone lines. Nearly every night two patrols went out from each battalion - most of the time they were led by officers - to reconnoiter near the enemy positions. They were patrols like that from Company B, led by 2nd Lieutenant Alvin S. Reed of Ohio, which stole into Fossieux late on the night of 1 October; there, coming upon three enemy soldiers, they quickly grabbed them and gagged them before they cried out; information from the prisoners as well as observations in the town proved invaluable in the operations a few days later.
With the defensive positions in the Foret de Gremecey once more secure, there was little to fear on the right. The regimental left, however, left something to be desired as far as the position was concerned. There was the thought that the position would be more secure if the line could be pushed forward, in coordination with the 80th Division, in order to eliminate the unfavorable characteristics of a salient. Plans for such a coordinated attack were laid 6 October, and the regimental order was issued the following afternoon for an attack at 0615 on 8 October. It was to be a blow carrying sufficient weight to force a decision. Attached to the Regiment were the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry; 737th Tank Battalion, and Company B, 86th Chemical Company (4.2 inch mortars); in direct support: 161st Field Artillery (reinforced), Company A, 654th TD Battalion; and Companies A and B; 60th Engineer Battalion. In addition, Combat Command B of the 6th Armored Division was to participate in the attack, and units of the 80th Division would be attacking at the same time on the left. Regimental objectives were Fossieux and Arraye-et-Han. The plan called for the 3rd Battalion, with the support of the 737th Tank Battalion, to make the main effort on Fossieux. And once more Company F was called upon for a special mission - this time to go with a task force of the 6th Armored Division to capture and secure Arraye-et-Han.
Infantrymen of the 137ths 3rd Battalion mounted tanks at 0600 and the attack jumped off on time. There still was darkness, however, and fog reduced visibility to zero. This persisted to such an extent that there was no need for the 4.2-inch mortars to lay smoke. The poor visibility - not to mention enemy resistance - delayed the progress somewhat, but at 0940 the infantrymen dismounted from the tanks while the latter "shot up the town," and then the doughboys fought their way into Fossieux shortly after noon. Already armored units had moved into Arraye-et-Han, and Company F was mopping up; a patrol to Ajoncourt found that town also to be clear. A prisoner bag of over 200 was evidence of the effectiveness of the days operations.
Late that afternoon the 1st Battalion relieved the 3rd Battalion, 137th Infantry, and the later withdrew to an assembly position. Early the next morning (9 October), the Germans, apparently never knowing when they were beaten, drove back into Fossieux with tanks and infantry of their own. Reports of air activity and of enemy columns to the north indicated that the enemy still might be able to assemble a decisive force in this area. It was a costly, nerve-racking, daylong struggle. Tank destroyers were able to knock out several enemy tanks, but they were not able to deny entrance to Fossieux, and before noon the enemy had regained most of the town. But there was no disposition on the part of the 1st Battalion to let matters rest there. Colonel Boatsman directed the companies back into the attack, and by nightfall the battalion was in possession of half the town. While mopping up operations, with the assistance of the 3rd Battalion, 137th continued the next day, the 2nd Battalion was ordered to assemble at Manhoue as regimental reserve.
The attached infantry battalion returned to its own regiment on 11 October, though the 1st Battalion still was involved in mopping up around Fossieux. At last, however, that battalion too was relieved - and glad to be free from Fossieux, which had been a headache for it ever since arrival in the area - and the 2nd Battalion returned to the line while the 1st went to Manhoue as reserve.
Apparently the Germans had interpreted the attack against Fossieux as the opening of a general offensive and the beginning of a break-through. It seems that some tanks of the 11th Panzer Division, en route from Strassbourg to Dieuze, were hurried up to Fossieux to lead the counterattack.
With the whole situation now pretty well stabilized, the division undertook a policy of rotating the regiments, holding one out in reserve. The 137th Infantry relieved the 134th on 15 October, and Regiment, less the 3rd Battalion, moved to an assembly area in the vicinity of Brin-sur-Seille. The 3rd Battalion moved to Gremecey where it would be immediately available for counterattack, and it maintained one company in position of the ridge immediately east of Gremecey to lend depth to the position of the 320th Infantry.
Somber fall weather, with frequent drizzles and perpetual soupy mud had prevailed most of the time since the arrival in this general area, but now a great proportion of the troops could take advantage of the shelter of abandoned French villages and they could give some attention to other activities than the basic problem of keeping alive and defending their positions. There were movies for all troops . . . shower baths . . . passes to Nancy . . . the ceremony in Nancy honoring the regimental commander and the 134th Infantry for the liberation of the city . . . conferences on tank-infantry cooperation . . . Marlene Dietrichs show (and her admonition to the grizzled veterans to kindly remove their steel helmets before applying a kiss) . . . Bing Crosbys appearance . . . Red Cross clubmobiles, with coffee and doughnuts, and jazz records - and American girls . . . and then, the height of escape from warfare, quotas, 40 men and four officers, for passes to Paris.
There were awards and promotions and battlefield commissions. Already Major Wood of the 3rd Battalion had been advanced to lieutenant colonel. First Sergeant Cecil Foster of Cannon Company, First Sergeant Joseph Piets of Anti-Tank Company, and Technical Sergeant Thomas E. Higley (Omaha), of G Company, were appointed second lieutenants.
There had been a great deal of dependence on the part of German soldiers upon the promised appearance of a new secret weapon which might turn the tide of the war in their favor. But now many were becoming skeptical of any such weapons. One of those taken prisoner in the Gremecey Forest area told a joke which was making the rounds in the German lines:
"Hans meets his friend Fritz who is carrying a large suitcase. Hans asks: "Fritz, what do you carry in the suitcase?" Fritz replies: Shhh, the new secret weapon. Then Hans opens the suitcase and says: There is nothing but straw and hay in there. And Fritz replies: Thats for the asses who still believe in the secret weapon."
Now too was an opportunity to check clothing and equipment, and in supplying those necessities of life and of combat, Major Marton and the supply services of Service Company found little more time on their hands than before. They had set up a weapons repair shop in order to save the evacuation of a large number of weapons. There was the task of battlefield salvage, of coordinating the issue of rations - hot meals or K rations, or C, or 10-in-1 rations, depending upon the tactical situation. There was the problem of checking replacements and correcting shortages of equipment, and of handling the pass details and shower details. The job was done in a way to maintain the high morale of the men and the effectiveness of the Regiment.
The 1st Battalions difficult mission completed around Fossieux, and reorganization completed, it now was possible to bring Lt. Col. Boatsman, senior battalion commander, back to Regiment to take up his duties as regimental executive officer. Major Dan E. Craig, previously S-3, and, since the evacuation of Colonel Sheppard, acting executive officer took command of the 1st Battalion.
At last the long siege of warfare had caught up with Captain Francis Mason of Company B. The "iron man" of the company commanders, Mason had defied the law of averages longer than any of the others - he was the last of the original company commanders to leave, and then no single wound had done it. And the quality of his performance had matched his endurance. The company commander is a key figure in any operation, and upon him focused all the pressures from above and below. He is responsible for the training, the supply, and the tactical employment of his company as well as for the welfare of his men - administrator, logician, father confessor, and tactician he must be. While others sleep he must report to battalion for late orders, and then make plans and issue orders of his own; always he must check his dispositions, his security; he must concern himself with the distribution of rations, the ordering of dry socks and radio batteries. Regimental and battalion commanders have staffs to assist in those details, but all of them - adjutants, intelligence officers, operations officers, supply officers, and all the others had to deal with the company commander. His, in other words, was the ultimate responsibility. Commanders of the caliber and endurance of Mason were a tremendous advantage in any regiment.
On 24 October, there was another shift of position, and the 134th Infantry relieved the 320th in the right sector of the division. Once again it was necessary to have all three battalions on the line in order to begin to cover the frontage. Now the Regiment faced generally east, and right to left it was the 3rd Battalion, with companies in Moncel, Chambrey, and Bois de Chambrey (an appendage of the Foret de Gremecey); then, the 2nd Battalion, along the edge of the forest; and the 1st Battalion, extending around to the regimental boundary opposite Fresnes. Now the 137th was on the left, and on the right arrived the 26th (Yankee) Division. The Regimental C.P. was set up at Attiloncourt. Again there was some enemy shelling - and the inevitable casualties (the Regiment had suffered over 300 casualties in this area) - but the sector remained a relatively quiet one. Patrols were active again every night - now patrol missions were being handled by special groups of men chosen for that type of duty and relieved form all other responsibilities. There were further conferences on tank-infantry cooperation; there was a stirring address by General Patton before company commanders and field grade officers (except executive officers who had to remain in charge of the units).
The Third Army commander made it clear that resumption of the general offensive was not far away, and in fact, such an order did come on 5 November - the Third Army was to move forward toward Germany on 8 November.
Major Roecker returned to the Regiment the next day, and he did so at a very opportune moment. He now could take command of his old 2nd Battalion again as Colonel Walker went to the 320th Infantry to take command of its 1st Battalion, whose commander, Major William G. Gillis, had been killed.
The C.P. moved to Pettoncourt. At 0600 on 9 November the 137th and the 320th Infantry jumped off.
|Daily the mud grows deeper|
|Men catch some sleep after attack around Fossieux|
|The personnel section remained at Nancy|
|Field officers in the field: (kneeling, left to right) Maj. McDannel (2nd Bn.), Maj. Weyand (1st Bn.), Maj. Heffelfiner (3rd Bn); (standing left to right) Maj. Craig (acting exec.), Lt. Col. Boatsman (1st Bn.), C.O., Lt. Col. Walker (2nd Bn.) Lt. Col. Wood (3rd Bn.)|
|Combat staff at Brin: (left to right) Maj. Godwin (S-2), Maj. Craig (acting exec.), C.O., Capt. Abbott (S-1), Maj. Carroll (S-3), Maj. Morton (S-4)|
|Some men of 1st Battalion Hq. with their C.O.|
|Marlene asked that soldiers kindly remove helmets|
|They could give some attention to other activities|
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