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
CLICK HERE for more information about this photograph
"Oh, if a man should come up an ask me, Id say we got a dum good lickin."
"Lickin - in yer eye! We aint licked, sonny. Were going down here aways, swing aroun an come in behint em."
"Oh, hush, with your comin in behint em. Ive seen all a that I wanta. Dont tell me about comin in behin t-"
- Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1896).
South of Bastogne, as the New Year comes in, there are still the Old Years dead, with ice matting their eyelashes, and the burnt tanks softened by the drifting snow.
- Sgt. Saul Levitt, "They Held Bastogne,"
Yank, (British Ed.),
Jan. 28, 1945.
We attacked the woods. Thank God, we are still alive.
- Record of Events,
Morning Report of 4 Jan., 1945,
A company of the 1st Battalion.
Taking advantage of the thinly stretched forces of the four American divisions charged with the defense of the Ardennes sector, the Germans had launched a great counteroffensive on 16 December - at a time when the 134th Infantry still were very much involved at Habkirchen. Field Marshal von Rundstedts blow (more accurately, as far as inspiration is concerned, the Hitler-Model offensive) fell with a suddenness and weight which engulfed the unfortunate regiments which found themselves garrisoning the huge frontage as a result of the "calculated risk" of General Eisenhower and General Bradley to permit concentration of forces for attack elsewhere. The German effort had objectives no less than the capture of the great supply center of Liege and the indispensable port of Antwerp. And the momentum of that attack was such that it appeared for a while - particularly to those aquatinted with the situation - that such decisive results would not be long in coming. The situation demanded immediate action. General Eisenhower called the 82nd and 101st Airborne Division out of strategic reserve in the Reims area, and on 18 December they arrived at St. Vith and Bastogne respectively. Other units were hurried across the channel from England. These measures were taken to stabilize the situation. But at the same time the Third Army was to shift its forces to make a counterattack - not latter than 22 December - and this was to be followed by an attack by the forces under Field Marshall Montgomery (all forces north of the penetration, including U.S. Ninth, and most of the First Army were placed under Montgomerys command, while those forces south of the bulge remained under General Bradley.) The response of the Third Army in moving up to deliver the counterattack was one of the remarkable logistical achievements of the war.
Other divisions had gone ahead of the 35th, but now its turn had come, and the 134th Infantry, following a rather circuitous route because of air attacks which had come against the 137th Infantrys column, was moving on this bitterly cold morning of 23 December, toward Metz - about 40 miles west of Habkirchen.
Full companies (283 more replacements arrived on the 24th) fell in for formations in the paved courtyards outside big brick barracks and other buildings of the old military post (Casserine Roque), which the Regiment occupied in the fortress city of Metz. Here was an opportunity for the reorganization which the Regiment needed so badly. With tongues in cheek, but anxious to make use of every hour of time, training schedules were prepared and reconnaissance made of ranges for the firing of weapons. There was cause for celebration when word came that no move was expected on Christmas Day, and men gathered Christmas Eve to share Christmas thoughts and spirited escape from their incongruous setting for a Christmas celebration. Many captured fleeting moments of a feeling almost at home; they noticed with appreciation, and a slight inner tingling, the bright moon shining through evergreen trees "Christmassy" in a light snow.
Plans for training gave way to plans for movement when a warning order came at 1300 on Christmas Day to be prepared to move northward early the next morning. Men of the 134th Infantry were grateful for the Christmas holiday in the shelter of the barracks; but there was an apprehensiveness behind their thoughts - for a large percentage of the fighting men this would be their first battle - as their column moved northward through Uchange, Fontey, and on through Arlon to an area north of that attractive Belgian city. Regimental Headquarters went to Metzert, and the battalions found quarters in neighboring villages - the 1st Battalion at Grendel, the 2nd at Post, and the 3rd at Attert. Lt. Col. Frederick C. Roecker, Jr., had returned to take command of the 2nd Battalion, Lt. Col. Dan E. Craig was commanding the 1st, and Major Harlan B. Heffelfinger, the 3rd; Lt. Col. Herman F. Schuster now was commanding the attached 161st Field Artillery Battalion. Here the 35th Division was in reserve for Major General John Millikans III Corps. A message came at 2330 that night that elements of the 4th Armored Division had succeeded in making contact with the beleaguered 101st Airborne Division near Assenois (about four kilometers southwest of Bastogne, on a secondary road.)
The next day (27 December), the 35th Division was committed on the right of the 4th Armored Division; but the 134th remained in Division reserve, while the 320th, on the right, and the 137th, on the left, attacked at 0800. The Regiment was under orders to be prepared to attack through the 137th on the 30 minutes notice.
True, tanks of the 4th Armored Division have been able to make contact with the Bastogne garrison, but physical contact still could be maintained only by tank; the corridor would remain tenuous until the main Arlon-Bastogne highway could be opened and made secure. This was the highway along which the Regiment had been moving, and the next morning it moved, still by motor, a few miles farther north (to within about 10 miles of Bastogne) - to an assembly area in the vicinity of Warnach.
The 3rd Battalion, with instructions to cooperate closely with the 4th Armored Division, relieved a battalion of the 318th Infantry (80th Division) in a woods north of Sainlez that afternoon. Now Brig. Gen. Ernst, Commanding Combat Command A, suggested that if his tanks were to succeed in driving into Bastogne via the Arlon-Bastogne highway it would be necessary to seize Lutrebois - a town less than five kilometers south of Bastogne and 1500 meters east of the highway - in order to protect the right flank.
This was the immediate task for the 3rd Battalion. With mortars screening the tree-covered heights across the valley to the front (northeast), men of Company L emerged from the wooded hill on the near (southwest) side of the town and swept in to execute a skillful attack in which a German command car was wrecked, and 17 enemy were killed in the street. At the same times Companies I and K moved across the valley to the right and took up positions in a woods just short of a road which entered the far end of Lutrebois from the southeast.
Now the whole Regiment was being committed. The regimental order directed the attack to be made in column of battalions (3 - 1 - 2), and should one become involved in fighting, the next was to by-pass to the left and continue the drive toward the Bastogne area. With the 3rd Battalion so involved at Lutrebois, the 1st Battalion by-passed to the left and drove toward Marvie (three kilometers southeast of Bastogne) to make the first infantry contact with the 101st Airborne Division. Tanks of the CCA, then, were able to fight their way through Remoifosse and enter Bastogne. Now the main highway from the south was open; the immediate question was to keep it so. Lt. Col. Warren C. Wood returned from the hospital that evening, just in time to get back to the 3rd Battalion for its role in the defense.
There was a strong hint that this might be more difficult that the initial action indicated when a platoon of Company L ventured into the woods beyond Lutrebois to seize the high ground. Then, when the whole platoon was into the woods to a depth of about 200 yards, automatic weapons began firing on all sides; even an 88mm gun began sending high velocity shells into the area. It was with considerable difficulty that the platoon was able to get back into the town, where it joined in setting up defenses. Company Ls headquarters group, mortar section, and a supporting platoon of heavy machine guns maintained a position in the woods overlooking Lutrebois in order to lend some depth to the position. Battalion Headquarters shared a shell-torn chateau - located in a natural hollow behind the wooded hill - with a headquarters of an armored infantry battalion whose troops were holding a line along the north edge of the woods.
The enemy struck back in a pre-dawn attack at 0300 (30 December), with some of the best troops remaining at his disposal - elements of the 167th Volksgrenadier Division, the 1st SS Panzer (Adolph Hitler) Division, and the 5th Paratroop Division. (Soon elements of the vaunted Panzer Lehr Division also appeared on the Regiments front.) Two battalions of infantry, followed by 40 tanks and additional foot troops attacked in the 3rd Battalions sector in a bid to (1) capture a supply dump which they though to be in the vicinity of the chateau; (2) cut the Arlon-Bastogne highway; (3) then swing north to reduce Bastogne itself. That the attack was to be a coordinated, all-out effort was suggested when an aerial bombardment (for the first time since the Normandy invasion the Luftwaffe was in the air to give effective support to the ground forces) hit Bastogne. A call for pre-arranged artillery fires by commanders of Company I (now Captain Lloyd Gibson) and Company K (Captain Campbell) delayed the advance, but could not stop it. But the column avoided that woods which they occupied and moved on along the road to Lutrebois. Here the light machine gun section of Company L held up the whole force, but the determined enemy deployed into three columns, and while one advanced on either side of the town to surround it, the third started to move through the center. Nevertheless men of Company L were able to hold out until the enemy brought up tanks. As enemy lines advanced across the snow toward the woods southwest of Lutrebois, Company Ms well-sited heavy machine guns opened fire with deadly effect. With little rifle protection left to them, members of the platoon held their positions and repelled three successive assaults with heavy losses to the enemy. But as the machine gun positions were entered from the flanks, Lt. William Shapiro, the platoon leader, ordered the guns out of action, and, without the loss of a man or weapon, the platoon withdrew to go to the assistance of the defense of the battalion C.P. (Every one of the 24 members of M Companys 2nd Platoon which participated in this action was awarded a Bronze Star medal.)
Although isolated now in a area a thousand yards from the nearest friendly unit. Companies I and K remained in their positions where the company commanders had excellent vantage points from which they could direct medium artillery fire on the tanks, and other artillery and mortars (including 4.2-inch mortars of Company D, 3rd Chemical Battalion) on additional groups of infantry forming in the woods to their front and right flank. Then, as enemy tanks deployed over the open ground to the northwest of Lutrebois, supporting tank destroyers (Company C, 654th TD Battalion), as well as tanks and TDs of CCA, opened fire from their positions near the highway.
Inside Lutrebois, the men of Company Ls 2nd and 3rd Platoons (the 1st Platoon had lost its leader and suffered heavy casualties in the capture of Lutrebois, and its men were divided between the other two), under Lt. Davis and /Sgt. Ralph Van Landingham, were defending themselves in a manner which was becoming typical of American defenses in the battle of the Bulge. Though surrounded they continued to fight back. Small, but hopeful developments nourished their courage. Lt. Davis found himself in radio contact (though he no longer had any kind of contact with his company or battalion) with an unidentified artilleryman who called himself "Bill." Though strange, it was a friendly voice; "Bill" urged Lt. Davis to hold on, and he would help. As a result, the L Company officer was able to direct highly effective artillery fire - often by risking his life to move out in the open where he could get better observation. Soon an artillery liaison plane appeared overhead. Later, in response to urgent calls from the Regiment, relays of P-47 Thunderbolts began zooming down over the enemy. Hope remained until afternoon, but then radio contact with "Bill" was broken, the Piper Cub disappeared, the P-47s did not return. By this time enemy troops were infiltrating through the southwest (rear) end of town, and their machine guns, covering the creek ravine which cut through the middle of the town, severed the defenses in two sections of the town. Soon the enemy had full control of the southwest section (Lutrebois lay along a single street, with a second street forming a loop near the center, for about a thousand yards across the valley), and other forces began another drive from the woods northeast of the town. Anti-tank mines, laid by engineers the night before, had stopped an earlier tank effort against the town, but now other tanks were accompanying the infantry. Bazooka teams had been down to four rounds of ammunition each when they went into Lutrebois, and that was gone. There was nothing with which to stop the tanks. A tank came alongside the house which Lt. Davis was using for a C.P. A German medic who was their prisoner went out and told the tankmen that there were several Americans in the house. By this time the German infantry and other tanks were overrunning the whole town. A tanker came into the house and told the occupants that a false move would bring destruction to the whole house. The big, ugly gun on his tank was trained directly on them. There were 49 men of Company L taken into the woods whence the counterattack had come. They were lined up, and with a light machine gun at the head and rear of the column, they were marched away to a small town about 5000 yards to the east. There they started their long trips to the prison camps.
Meanwhile, enemy soldiers were continuing through the woods southwest of town toward the battalion C.P. The 2nd Battalion had gone into position on the right of the 134th the preceding day in order to cover the large gap between the Regiment and the 137th, and Company E remained as the only available reserve to throw against the attack. This was done very early, but in the darkness of the woods and the confusion of the situation, that Company was unable to turn the tide. Runners, pioneers, escaped men of Company L, Company Ms headquarters and the returned machine gun platoon, and C.P. personnel formed a cordon around the 3rd Battalion command post, while other headquarters men took positions at windows or war-made loopholes in the ruined chateau. Men of the headquarters of the armored infantry battalion, with a tank and a half-track, joined in the defense. After a heavy barrage from 120mm mortars, Nazis came down the wooded slopes to attack with machine guns, rockets, and rifles. The C.P. defenders replied with a withering machine gun and rifle fire. The 81mm mortars shortened their range to 300 yards to cover the hill; but an enemy machine gun got into position where it could neutralize the mortars until Pfc. Edward Lentz of Indiana, one of the pioneers, stole through the woods to kill the three members of the crew with his M-1 rifle. A German officer and his party made their way into the yard, but they were cut down before they could reach the building. That officer died less than 400 yards short of the highway he was seeking to cut. Medium artillery, tank destroyers, tanks, and rocket-firing aircraft had combined to destroy at least 25 of the enemys armored vehicles. Now his infantry attack had been stopped as well.
Companies I and K were brought back across the valley, and , with some difficulty, they built up a defense line between the 51st Armored Infantry, on the left, and the 2nd Battalion, on the right. Indispensable to the defense was the artillery - there was close coordination between the 161st Field Artillery, and its reinforcing fires, and the armored artillery of the 4th Armored Division (which had the advantage of six-gun batteries and ample ammunition). All available artillery in the area joined in a reverberating serenade at midnight, 31 December - 1 January, to welcome the New Year. And their shells were more effective for the first use of the "pozit fuse" ammunition - those shells which contained small radio sets which brought an automatic detonation of the shell when it came within a certain distance of the ground or other solid objects, and so were highly effective even against dig-in positions. In its greatest volume of fire since St. Lo, the 161st alone expended 2,226 rounds of ammunition on 31 December, and 2,895 rounds on 1 January. It delivered 28 TOTs (time on target - those devastating volleys so calculated that whatever the location of the participating guns, all shells hit the target at the same time) in one day, and the men would mutter to each other, "Hitler, count your men."
|Hon, Chinese cook and general assistant to the 3rd Battalion staff, was reported to be preparing pancakes for breakfast that morning - an attractive departure from the K ration diet made possible by some shrewd oriental bartering with a fellow Chinese cook of the 4th Armored Division. Hon was disappointed and impatient when several of the officers failed to appear for breakfast, but he would save the batter until they were not so busy with counterattacks. He was perturbed when he was left alone in the kitchen with all the dirty utensils. He glanced out the window to see what all the commotion was about. Germans were running into the yard! His reaction was immediate. He ran to the table, picked up the precious pancake batter, and threw it out the window. "So damn Krauts wont get it," he said.|
In a bitter four-day struggle Companies I and K fought to regain Lutrebois. It was a struggle characterized by such individual heroism as two newly commissioned second lieutenants of I Company Lester R. Clark and Walter A. Bomberger of Nebraska. Both were out in front of their platoons to lead them across a stretch of open ground into Lutrebois. Bomberger was killed in action (2 January), and Clark was wounded, but he refused evacuation until he could give battalion headquarters important information about the enemy dispositions. Then there was the action of 2nd Lt. David V. Cunningham of Virginia, a K Company platoon leader, who advanced alone to a fiercely defended house, climbed to the roof, and dropped grenades down the chimney to eliminate the strong point. Captain Jack Campbell was wounded by a mortar shell fragment that afternoon; the law of averages had caught up with the only "original" line company officer who was left. First, a platoon leader in L Company, and then, as commander of K Company, he had served continuously since the jump-off for St. Lo. An "original" who had been wounded at St. Lo, but recently returned, Lt. John Strader, took command of the company.
Companies I and K had regained complete possession of Lutrebois by 4 January, but beyond that they could not go. There was an attempt on the next afternoon, and parts of both companies got into the woods beyond Lutrebois, but there they found as much difficulty as had come to the L Company platoon a week earlier. In the confusion which developed when Germans were reported to be wearing American uniforms (probably overcoats, worn more for protection against the cold weather than for a trick), the companies fell back to Lutrebois and resigned themselves to its defense.
Protecting the rear of those companies, and giving depth to the defense of Lutrebois, all that remained of Company L prepared defenses in the woods to the southwest overlooking the town. It was a miserable existence in frozen foxholes with no opportunity for relaxation, warmth, or washing. Shelling brought further losses to Company L in that position, and it seemed that the jinx against battlefield-commissioned officers was extending to that company as well. Now Technical Sergeant John L. Cantoni of Nebraska, acting platoon leader and executive, was scheduled for a commission, but he was killed before his gold bars could be pinned on. (He had only recently rejoined his company after recovering from wounds received at St. Lo).
Lt. Joseph L. Brigandi of New York, now commanding Company L, was the only officer left in the company. As enemy threats continued, other units were pressed into service to strengthen the position where Company L overlooked the valley. During this period a War Department inspector, General Brown, visited Lutrebois. He heard sniper fire in the valley as he came up to Lt. Brignadis position.
"I thought two battalions went through here," the general said.
"Yes sir," the rough-bearded, tired, but alert company commander answered.
"Isnt that enough to clean that out?"
"No sir, not the size of those battalions."
"How many men do you have in your company, lieutenant?"
"Twenty-seven, counting myself, sir."
"Who is left of your company?"
"Battalion A and P Platoon, sir."
"Who is on your right?"
"Regimental MP Platoon."
"Who is on their right?"
"The I and R Platoon, sir."
That was all.
While the 3rd Battalion concerned itself with attack and defense around Lutrebois, the 1st Battalion, separated from the 3rd by 3,000 yards of snowfields and woods, was engaging Germans from the vicinity of Marvie. There the battalion consolidated its positions to present an effective barrier against further attempts at Bastogne. Able to maintain a penetrating sense of humor in any kind of situation, its commander, Lt. Col. Dan Craig, continued to add color to his military character as he applied an exacting efficiency to his tactical dispositions and to the task of bring up hot meals, when possible, and the supplies essential to combat in cold weather. (Typical Craigism: "A successful commander or staff officer must maintain a half-way belligerent attitude toward the next higher headquarters." "Optimism increases in direct proportion to the distance from the front lines." "Ones deeds in retrospect tend to magnify." And - after it was all over - "I would not take a million dollars for this experience; nor would I take a million dollars to repeat it.")
As battalions joined in an effort to regain the initiative after the Germans counterattack at Lutrebois, the 1st Battalion attacked to the east of Marvie at 1330 on New Years Day. While Company C remained in position on bald Hill 500 south of Marvie, to support the attack by fire, Companies A and B pushed out to a position where they could cover a crossroads on the Bastogne-Wiltz highway. But here complications developed. Not only did they encounter strong resistance to their front, but by the next morning a group of enemy (estimated at a company) had worked around to their rear and had their supply route blocked. Two men were lost as they attempted to get supplies to A Company. It was far from a hopeless position, however, because there was contact with old friends on the left - the 6th Armored Division. However, there was no promise of progress in a continuation of these widely dispersed frontal attacks. A new plan called for the re-assembly of the 1st Battalion in Marvie on 3 January, and then an attack in a new direction the next morning - an attack to the southeast toward the Lutrebois area. In an effort to break the German defenses in the great woods east of that town, the 1st Battalion once more would depend upon the surprise of hitting a flank before dawn.
Snow fell upon snow that night, and when the men of the 1st Battalion jumped off shortly after 0700 (4 January), a cold wind was driving into their faces. It cancelled whatever advantage to visibility accompanied the arrival of dawn. An occasional German flare added to the eerieness of the enemy-infested woods. A tremendous artillery barrage fell to the rear of the leading companies, but they were beyond its effects. Through on finger of woods they moved without opposition - then through snow, sometimes knee deep, across an open field - then into the woods again. Abandoned enemy equipment and foxholes suggested on increasing proximity to defended positions. "There goes a Kraut!" someone called. Approaching a clearing, men of Company C noticed a Nazi vehicle several hundred yards ahead which appeared to be refueling. There was a pause for consideration of what action ought to be taken, but, with a suddenness of a bolt of lightning, the Germans opened fire. A C Company reinforcement (higher headquarters recently had ordered that replacements now should be designated "reinforcements"), who was participating in his first battle, Pfc. Nathaniel Schaeffer, gives a vivid description of the scene:
|A stream of hot lead struck our flank. German machine guns, burp guns, rifles, and 20mm guns rattled out their tattoo of death and injury. At the initial burst I saw one of our men on my left stagger and slowly sink to the ground. Weighted down by equipment he awkwardly assumed a reclining position on his left side while his lifes blood gushed out in spurts from his severed jugular vein. He had received this mortal wound from a piece of shrapnel. His demise was hastened by his accelerated respiration due to the effort required moving through the snow and dense forest.|
A squad sought cover in a small depression, but a shell burst in its midst and wiped out the whole group.
Actually Company C had caught enemy defenders by surprise, and overrun their outlying positions. In fact, the attack had been so successful, and the visibility and points of reference in the snowy woods so poor, that the company had over-shot its objective by about 800 yards. It was deep within enemy territory, and Germans were all around. Though ground contact between the company and other units was impossible, radio communication remained clear. Colonel Craig ordered the company to withdraw to a more favorable position. It was the only thing to do, but a company always regrets having to give up a newly-won position without a fight, and such a movement would mean abandonment of wounded comrades to their own fate. Again Schaeffer reported:
|As we got ready to move, I can still remember some of the men begging, imploring, and entreating us not to leave them behind. I distinctively recall one man in particular, he had received four wounds, one in a vital part, struggle to his hands and knees and attempt to follow us by creeping along on his fours. What a sight to see him finally collapse, unable to keep up.|
Staff Sergeant Rex L. Strom of Illinois, and Pfc. Dallas W. Viehe of Indiana, did remain in their particular sector long enough to permit initiation of evacuation for some of the wounded. Depending only upon their rifles, they stood their ground against a new German attack, and fired with such effect that they killed some 30 of the enemy.
Word from the rear of the column that German tanks were approaching urged men of Company C on. Successful in eluding further encounters with enemy forces, the men dispersed among the trees while leaders worked to locate themselves and determine a way out. Captain William M. Denny circulated among the troops, maintaining a calm and reassuring attitude, to restore their confidence. As the afternoon wore on, the men, numbed with cold, stood about talking in low whispers on the possibility of reaching friendly positions. Snow continued to fall intermittently, and the bitter cold penetrated through the heavy clothing. Feet were swelling with "trench foot." Some men nibbled on D ration bars in an effort to gain some energy. Water in canteens either had been given to the wounded (for taking sulfa tablets), or was frozen, and some of the men were scooping snow from the trees to eat.
Presently, after estimates of the location, and instructions from battalion headquarters, the plan for salvation from the Germans and the weather was to move to the west, and try to reach Lutrebois. Now at this particular time the 3rd Battalion still was fighting its way back through the town, and Nazis still held about half of it. Yet, it was conceivable that the appearance of C Company in the rear of the defenders of Lutrebois might contribute to the completion of its capture. At any rate, it seemed to be the only thing to do which offered any prospect of success. Night was approaching, and the hope was that the company could cover the open ground between the woods and Lutrebois under the cover of darkness.
The company formed a human chain, a column of twos, in order to maintain contact in the inky darkness. Only the sounds of heavy breathing and the crunch of feet on cold snow disturbed the silence of the night. A break in the clouds now and then permitted pale moonlight to come through. Finally the column came out of the forest. A road lay across their path; it was the road which would lead to safety. Hopefully, but even more cautiously, they moved on. Scarcely 100 yards later the "brrrp, brrp" of a burp gun pierced the still air. Sentinels of an enemy outpost on the right flank had discovered them. With the first burst the column halted, and then disintegrated. Men scrambled for the woods in an application of the final rule of desperation, "every man for himself." Captain Denny, at the head of his column, had been seized and made prisoner. One group of 12 men gathered about Sergeant Solomon Plotsky of New York, an assistant squad leader, and he lead their new attempt to get to friendly lines. A machine gun pinned them down. Sgt. Plotsky watched the weapons muzzle blast. He worked his way toward it, then rushed out and seized the barrel with his bare hands, wrested the gun from the German, and knocked him out. Subsequently they reached the 2nd Battalion.
Lieutenant Wallace P. Chappel tried to get the column reorganized, but he could gather only a few. One thing the German fire did - it brought on some friendly firing, and Lt. Chappel and his group of survivors followed its sounds and finally arrived at G Companys position (in the woods south of Lutrebois in I Companys former location). There was a bit of anti-climax when a part of this group got lost from the G Company guide, and once more found themselves wandering through strange woods. At last they found other friends and were led to the 2nd and 3rd Battalion C.P.s. The walking wounded went to the aid stations, and the other men boarded trucks to return to Marvie. They arrived at 0300 on 5 January - it was less than 24 hours since they had left.
There were 37 survivors there that morning of a company strength of 120 men which had made the attack. Other survivors appeared in the succeeding days. Sergeant Frank L. Mazzi of Pennsylvania had assumed command of the machine gun platoon (Company D), which was supporting C Company when his leader was hit. He himself was wounded, but he directed fire to cover the withdrawal, and then, he tried to lead his men back to safety. He crawled forward to see if he could make contact with a friendly unit, but then he came under intense German fire, and worse, American artillery fire. Now he was separated from his own platoon. He sought cover until darkness, and then started moving. Sharing his plight was 2nd Lt. Lawrence Eschelman of Nebraska. They slipped past Nazi guards, evaded enemy rifle shots, and finally stumbled into Villers-la-Bonne-Eau (a village three kilometers south of Lutrebois in the zone of the 137th Infantry). They lived in a cellar, while Germans frequented the upstairs, for seven days on a diet of carrots and potatoes.
Meanwhile, Company B, attacking on the left, had shared the early successes. It had overrun the rear area of the German defense position and captured a battalion C.P., including the commander of the 331st Infantry (167th VG Division). The company entrenched itself on Hill 540.
Now Colonel Craig sent A into the attack to attempt to gain contact with the 3rd Battalion at Lutrebois, and to try to fill the gap left by Company C. Commanding A Company now was 1st Lt. William O. White, Jr. He had been twice wounded - both times in the same leg and had returned from his second evacuation while the Regiment was at Metz. He had served for a while in other units, but he carried a deep feeling for A Company, a sentiment growing out of long association as its executive officer during its training in the United States. The confusion of the situation extended itself to Company A. Once more there was the reverberation of intensive fire through the woods, and once more there was infiltration, and platoons became separated. There was some improvement when 2nd Lt. Frank R. Delitt of Texas crawled toward a machine gun while his men covered him with fire, and then eliminated the gun and a trio of Germans with two hand grenades. But other groups were coming toward the command group. Hurrying about to get defenses coordinated at this critical juncture, it seems that Lieutenant White stepped into a hole. His injured leg was broken anew. He lay helpless as the enemy closed in. The radio operator was pleading for help when enemy soldiers arrived; most of the command group fell into their hands. Captivity apparently brought no relief from suffering for the company commander. The exposure in his weakened condition was too much, and later, the capable officer from the deep South, a brilliant mind, and an able leader, was reported dead. His men always hoped that such a report never would come. Company A had 40 men left at 1635, and finally they were able to join the defensive position of Company B.
German counterattacks continued to strike back at the 1st Battalion. Even its Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon had to be committed on the left flank, and though Lt. Thomas F. Murray of Montana disposed his men well, and they did succeed in repelling an attack, many of them too were captured. Shelling in Marvie became so intense that it was necessary to remove much of the battalions headquarters to Sainlez (where the Regiments C.P. was located).
During all this time the 2nd Battalion likewise was having its troubles on the right of the 3rd Battalion. It will be recalled that it had been committed to action on 29 December, to cover the gap between the 3rd Battalion and the 137th Infantry, and that its Company E had been called upon to go to the assistance of the 3rd Battalion in an attempt to hold the defenses behind Lutrebois. In that effort - through the dark woods - E Company itself had become surrounded. Its commander and all its platoon leaders except 1st Lt. John E. Davis of Nebraska, had become casualties. It fell to Davis then to reorganize the company, and get it back to a defensible position. It was an expression of leadership that he succeeded in getting back to the 2nd Battalion. The other companies shared in the effects of the counterattack in the Lutrebois area. At 0900 (30 December), sharp attacks came against the left of Company F and the right of Company G.
Orders to the 2nd Battalion the next morning called for an attack through the woods toward Lutremange (a town about two kilometers southeast of Lutrebois). Men of the 2nd Battalion jumped off before 1000, but opposition was instantaneous and overpowering. Within a few minutes they were forced to return to their original positions.
Illness overtook Colonel Roecker and forced his fourth evacuation. Once more Major McDannel took over. Captain O. H. Bruce of Maryland, who had been acting as 3rd Battalion executive officer under the command of Major Heffelfinger, now went to the 2nd Battalion as executive.
Far from continuing its attack, the 2nd Battalion soon found itself hard-pressed to hold what it had. The 137th, on the right, was having strong counterattacks from the vicinity of Tannerie and Villiers-la-Bonne-Eau, and early that afternoon contact was lost with that regiment. This meant that as well as the threat to the left flank, growing out of the penetration of the 3rd Battalions position, an even more imperative threat was developing on the right flank. The battalions anti-tank guns were disposed on the important flank. Already, the previous day, the platoon had given a notable account of itself when 2nd Lt. Joseph A Mack of Nebraska, platoon leader, directed its fire to disperse an approaching column of Germans - with a dozen of the enemy killed in the action, though one squad did have to withdraw. Now it was infiltration; Germans had got behind one squad to cut it off. Lt. Mack formed a group to go to the squads rescue. He was within 10 yards of his goal when he was killed in action. The other members of the party, however, were able to re-establish contact.
Task Force Fricket of the 28th Cavalry Group (mechanized) arrived to cover the broadening gap on the right flank on 1 January, and the 2nd Battalion prepared to jump off in coordination with the 3rd Battalion as the latter undertook the recapture of Lutrebois. Companies F and G were attacking over the same ground, in general, which Companies I and K had covered in their initial attack. Down across the valley they went, and back into the woods southeast of Lutrebois where men of Companies I and K had watched the great procession of Nazi tanks a couple of days earlier. But again there were counterattacks and infiltration. The companies had to withdraw a short distance, and, in the process of withdrawal, Privates Eugene J. Fehal of New York and Sammuel B. Richard of Michigan, newly arrived reinforcements, found themselves separated from their unit - Company G. Four German machine guns kept them down in the snow, but they noted with satisfaction how American mortars and artillery were silencing them. But they were within German-occupied woods. They huddled together in a shallow slit trench , under the cover of a single blanket which, covered with snow, concealed their hideout. After four days and nights, each ventured out on a short patrol. One returned with some K rations which he had found on a dead Yank, and the other returned with a Bible which he had taken from the pocket of another fallen comrade. "The rations helped the first day - that and eating snow," they reported, "but the Bible brought us through." They took turns reading it to each other. After a week of this miserable existence, they found their way back to Lutrebois, and they entered with their hands up - lest they be taken for Germans in American uniforms.
Company F had remained in position to guard the right rear, but a troop of Task Force Fricket relieved it early on 2 January. Then one of Captain Bruces first jobs with the battalion was to organize and lead a special task force - F Company and supporting armor - to cooperate with the 51st Armored Infantry (4th Armored Division) in eliminating an enemy pocket which had persisted in rear of the 3rd Battalions positions behind Lutrebois.
The enemy re-asserted his domination of the ravine, and both E and G Companies were in practical isolation. The only way of getting supplies to them was by hand-carrying parties - accompanied by combat patrols. Even litter teams, under Red Cross flag, were unable to move freely across the valley; one team was fired on as it went across to pick up a man, and then drew mortar fire on its return. Part of a team was captured. The problem of supply was a critical one, and the fact that the companies were able to hold out was due in no small measure to the efforts of 1st Lt. Ben C. Washburn of Alabama, who reconnoitered the route, then led the carrying parties (consisting of about 30 men) on their missions during the nights of 2, 3, and 4 January, and organized additional litter teams to evacuate the wounded.
The Regiment had been able to hold its own against the strongest kind of enemy attacks - in which the C.P. itself, at Sainlez was not immune to intense artillery fire and threatened tank attacks - but with the heavy losses which had accrued, it seemed a greater concentration of force was needed to get a decisive break in the situation. An accretion of strength came on the afternoon of 5 January, when the 1st Battalion, 320th Infantry, was attached to the Regiment. With trucks of Cannon Company and the 161st Field Artillery, it moved up to the left flank on the 1st Battalion, and the next morning it launched an attack through the woods in rear of the 1st Battalion - the same fingers of woods through which C Company had gone. Three successive days of attack were indecisive, and now there were four battalions involved, and none had real physical contact with any other. A conference of all commanders concerned brought acceptance of a new plan - a plan for well-coordinated attack against the flank and rear of the whole enemy position.
During the evening of 8 January, the 2nd Battalion relieved the 3rd in Lutrebois, and the 1st Battalion extended its lines to relieve the 1st Battalion, 320th. Those battalions assembled that night (men of the 3rd Battalion filed across the snow-swept fields from Lutrebois at 0400) in a patch of woods to the northwest of the great woods in which the fighting had taken place. In this new effort the 1st Battalion, 320th was to attack on the right, across the front of the 1st Battalion, 134th. The 3rd Battalion would attack on the left, and, on its left, the 2nd Battalion of the 320th, with tank support from the 4th Armored Division, was to attack in close coordination with it.
After a 30 minute preparation by artillery and direct fire of tank destroyers, mortars, and artillery began laying down a beautiful smoke screen along the edge of the woods, the TDs started rolling forward, the artillery shifted to the objective deep into the woods for another 20 minutes of fire while the long line of infantrymen stepped out of their woods in unison (1000 hours) and began advancing across the dazzling snow to the great woods. the success of the new approach became apparent almost at once. Riflemen advanced rapidly through the woods, overrunning enemy positions, taking dazed prisoners from their foxholes at bayonet point. The 1st Battalion had to launch an attack against an enemy strong point before the right of the 1st Battalion, 320th, could break loose, but soon all units were on their objectives along the trail which ran through the woods from Lutrebois.
B Company, with a platoon of medium tanks from the 6th Armored Division, eliminated a strong point along the road near the edge of Lutrebois the next day, and then the stage was set to complete the clearing out of the woods.
With the 2nd Battalion and Cannon Company, 320th Infantry, now attached, the Regiment executed another change in direction to launch an attack to the northeast at 0800 on 11 January. The formation was one calculated to maintain contact with Lutrebois by unfurling a long trail to the rear of the assault battalions: the 3rd Battalion attacked on the right (the Lutrebois trail was the boundary), the 2nd Battalion, 320th (and light tanks still were supporting the attack) on the left, the 1st Battalion, 320th Infantry, followed the 3rd Battalion at close interval, echeloned to the right, the 1st Battalion followed the 1st Battalion,, 320th Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion remained in defense of Lutrebois with the mission of denying any further infiltration into the rear. Artillery support consisted of the fires of the 161st Field Artillery reinforced by the 216th, 177th, 231st, 176th (4.5-inch guns), and the two cannon companies.
Enemy resistance appeared in varying intensity, but battalions maneuvered reserve companies against it (1st Battalion, 320th, moved up on the right of the 3rd Battalion during the afternoon), the light tanks, taking advantage of a clearing, raced up and down the line firing demoralizing machine gun and 37mm fire among the trees, and German defenses could not stand against such a concentration of power. The advancing man were conscious of the smell of broken evergreens, and the death which had visited the woods so frequently. They saw the effects of the days of murderous mortar barrages of Companies D, H and M, and of the 4.2"s, and of the unprecedented artillery fire which had torn through the woods. Never had they seen as many German dead, left on the battlefields.
The next afternoon (12 January), the units of the 320th Infantry were relieved of the attachment, the 1st Battalion assembled, and the 3rd Battalion proceeded alone to the division objective at the northeast corner of the woods and established contact with the 90th Division, on the right, and the 6th Armored Division, on the left.
At last the division had been "pinched out" (by the 90th Division, attacking from the south, and the 6th Armored Division, attacking from the west), and the 1st Battalion moved back about five miles to Hompre and Salvacourt, and the 2nd Battalion to Chaumont, Hollange, and Grandue. A day later the 3rd Battalion moved back to that general area - to the villages of Remerville, Remichampagne, and Clochimont. (Regimental C.P. remained at Sainlez.)
The fighting in this area had cost the Regiment heavily, but the cost to the defeated enemy had been much worse. In spite of the deftness generally attributed to the Germans in removing their dead from the battlefield, the 3rd Battalion graves registration officer found German dead in the Lutrebois area in numbers whose ratio to American dead was approximately 8 to 1. But in his work in that area, Lt. Eldephonse C. Reischel discovered some evidence of Nazi brutality. Reischel and his crew - Privates First Class Andrew Baumgartner, Erwin C. Choate, and J. P. Brown - found the bodies of six members of the Regiment who apparently had been taken prisoner and then shot. Three of the men evidently had been wounded prior to their capture, for wounds in their limbs or shoulders had been dressed with bandages from American first aid packets. But they, as well as the others, each had a mortal wound, usually a single one, from the penetration of a small arms bullet through the head or through the vicinity of the heart.
The Battle of the Bulge was reaching a new phase. All forces now were pushing to recover the positions held before the great counteroffensive began. The Germans were on the defensive all along the line. Time for rest in shelter against the winter weather, and for Red Cross clubmobiles, and, yes, for training, could not be for long.
First to be recalled to action was the 1st Battalion. It was attached to Reserve Command of the 6th Armored Division late on 14 January (at about the same time that the 3rd Battalion was just coming back), but it remained on Hompre and Salvacourt until the next morning when it moved to an assembly position back up at Marvie again. It joined with Task Force Wall in an attack to the northeast the next afternoon. The combined forces drove into Arloncourt, where men could see the effect of the German attacks in the 15 knocked-out American tanks in town. By nightfall they were within 500 yards of the Longvilly-Bourcy highway.
The whole of Combat Team 134 joined this new attack on 18 January, when it became attached to the 6th Armored Division and moved up to relieve the 320th Infantry. En route a sobering scene of destruction impressed upon men of the 134th Infantry - whole columns of disabled Sherman tanks lay in grotesque positions along the road and fields around Longvilly. Whole batteries of armored artillery, the barrels of the howitzers leveled for direct fire, set where they had been overrun.
Initially the 2nd and 3rd Battalions (the 3rd on the right) assumed defensive positions in woods along the highway about a mile southeast of Bourcy, while the 1st Battalion reverted to Regimental Reserve and moved back to Oubourcy, Michamps, and Arloncourt. Remaining in this position while CCA and CCB renewed their drives to the northeast, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions advanced through the woods northeast of Bourcy on 21 January. Tanks and TDs moved along the open ground near the left edge of the woods, but the enemy had withdrawn. Biggest obstacle was the snow. Sometimes its depth was as much as three feet, and platoons found it necessary to rotate the exhausting position of trailbreaker. Greatest problem that evening, the objective achieved, was resupply across the deep snows - there was no road within a mile of the troops. Here the "weasels" - the track-laying cousins of the jeep - proved their indispensability. And further evidence of advantage of attachment to an armored division appeared, for light tanks carried loads of rations and water and equipment up to the companies - and towed jeeps which had tried but stalled in the snowdrifts.
Nor was that the only advantage to the attachment. Movement by marching now was found to be largely outmoded. The next move for men of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions was on the decks of tanks of the 68th Tank Battalion and tank destroyers of Company C, 603rd TD Battalion. It was a move to the northeast of another five miles - the 2nd Battalion to Hoffet and Weiler, and the 3rd to Hachiville (in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg). The 1st Battalion, meanwhile, attached to CCB and then to CCA, had moved to Troine and then to Hachiville, and the Regimental CP moved to Troine.
The 35th Division had moved back to Metz on 18 and 19 January, and it was on its way to the Vosge Mountains in Alsace to help bolster defenses behind the so-called "Little Bulge." Actually the threatening Colmar pocket had been contained, and weather remained as the principal enemy.
Combat Team 134, with the 6th Armored Division, was preparing further attacks. The Regiment, after the fashion of the armored force, became the core of "Combat Team Miltonberger," and, in turn this was made up of task forces: Task Force McDannel (the 2nd Battalion; Company B, 68th Tank Battalion; 1st Platoon, Company A, 60th Engineers), Task Force Wood (3rd Battalion; Troop B, 86th Cavalry Squadron; Company A, 68th Tank Battalion; Anti-tank Mine Platoon), and Task Force A (reserve, under Lt. Colonel Duval - 68th Tank Battalion less Companies A and B). The 1st Battalion (Task Force Craig) still was attacked to CCA, and the 161st remained as the CT artillery.
In an advance of 6 kilometers in the afternoon of 23 January, carried out against sporadic artillery, Task Force Wood occupied Basebellain, and TF McDannel took the high ground to the right (southeast). CCB, with the 1st Battalion, took the important town of Trois Vierges (two kilometers southeast of Basebellain). The 17th Airborne Division came up on the left, and there was some confusion in plans when it was discovered that the unit had been assigned some of the same objectives as had this CT. A clarification showed that there had been a change in boundaries, and, to the disappointment of none of the infantrymen, the impending continuation of the attack toward Goedingen and Huldange was cancelled. Instead, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions re-assembled in Hachiville.
It was for another move of six or seven mile to the east to relieve elements of the 357th and 359th Infantry Regiments (90th Division) along the "Skyline Drive" on the heights west of the Our River. Once more the 68th Tank Battalion (or "68th Armored Transport Battalion"), and its attached TDs carried the personnel for which there was no room or organic transportation most of the distance. It was on steel and ice, and much of the way, was treacherous. As the column moved through the deep valley of the Clerf creek, one tank slid off the road and rolled down a ten-foot embankment. The companies proceeded on foot from that valley to the high ground above. The 3rd Battalion went into Heinerscheid, and the 2nd (on the right) to the area around Grindhausen. Both battalions established their command posts in Hupperdangen. Later the 3rd Battalion took over most of the 2nd Battalions area, and, leaving only F Company in Grindhausen, that battalion assembled in Hupperdangen. (Regimental C.P. was at Boxhorn.)
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion reverted from attachment to CCA to CCB, and then mounted its most difficult attack - against the strongly defended town of Weiswampach. It was another case of facing direct gunfire and small arms over snow-covered fields, and once more the 1st Battalion turned to night attack. It fought its way into Weiswampach at 0630 on 26 January, and, with a firm foothold among the buildings, was able to do an effective mopping-up. Elements of the 90th Division relieved the 1st Battalion there, and the latter, still attached to CCB, moved down to Fischbach, on the Regiments right. Those days in the defensive were days for highly effective observed artillery fire against almost continuous enemy activity to the front, and for daily and nightly reconnaissance patrols - accomplished with benefit of white camouflage suits (manufactured by Third Army out of mattress covers).
Last offensive operations in this campaign came with I Companys pre-dawn capture of Kalborn, down the hill to the front of Heinerscheid. Lt. Warran D. Hodges of Kansas had sailed as a reinforcement officer from New York Harbor on 8 January, and had arrived in the Regiment on the 26th, and now, the following morning, he was commanding the leading platoon in the attack. He remained in command of the town with his platoon while the rest of the company returned to its position in Heinerscheid. The enemy had been cleared from the area west of the Our River and the German boundary. The Regiment stood at the line which Americans had held 15 December.
Its participation in the Battle of the Ardennes had cost the Regiment 1449 battle casualties - 140 killed, 1011 wounded, 298 missing. Some of those missing undoubtedly had been killed; other would be reported prisoners (the Regiment had taken 427 German prisoners during the period.) For its action there, the Regiment won a Presidential unit citation.
Difficult times lay ahead for those men who had been taken prisoner. Among them was Technical Sergeant Ralph E. Van Landingham and the other men of Company L who had been taken at Lutrebois. While the Regiment continued its attacks, they were on the way to prison camps. After their only ride in German motor trucks, they spent New Years Day in Clewaux. From there, they walked and walked - through Prum, where they saw 13 Americans killed by the strafing of an RAF Mosquito bomber - Gerolstein, where they had to carry heavy logs down from the mountains to railway tracks, and where a German guard, a Sergeant Eisenhower, entered their crowded room one evening in search of more "volunteers," and fired a shot from his pistol into the room, and killed one American (rations initially consisted of a can of cheese, equivalent to a No. 2 1/2 can, for each ten men) - Kelberg - Mayen - Koblenz - Bad Ems - and, finally, Limburg. Here was located Stalag XIIA, and it was the first time that any of the group was registered as a prisoner of war. There was no such thing as consideration. A Canadian paratrooper had been told at Prum that he had a piece of shrapnel near his heart, but he had to march the distance, and he dropped dead as he entered the prison camp. There was no heat at the Limburg enclosure; men of Company L slept on small piles of straw over a frozen floor inside frame buildings. Now rations consisted of one-tenth of a loaf of bread a day, ersatz tea in the morning, hot soup at noon (a cupful), and either three potatoes boiled with jackets on or a potato soup at night. After an interrogation in an old castle at Diaz, the group with VanLandingham returned to Limburg where they were given small portions of bread and placed aboard a locked boxcar for three days of travel. The weather was so cold that frost formed inside the car every afternoon about 1600, and remained until about 1000 the next morning. There was no water to be had during the trip, and the guards tried to sell the rations to the hungry prisoners for fountain pens, pencils, and watches. Some mens feet were frozen during the trip. When they arrived at their destination, Hammelburg, on 31 January, each was handed about a pound of cheese and told that it must be eaten by the time they reached the camp - it was rations which the guards had been holding back in the hope of making sales. But at the camp at least there was one thing which was a real boost to their morale - the arrival of Red Cross parcels.
Back in the 134th Infantry that same 31 January, battalion and special unit commanders heard a new order: "Control of CT 134 reverts from 6th Armored Division to 35th Infantry Division upon departure from 6th Armored Division sector. Per VOCG, 6th Armored Division, the CT moves in one serial (four march groups) to the vicinity of Maastricht, Holland, 1 February, 1945."
On the occasion of that departure, the Combat Team received a commendation from Major General R. W. Grow, commanding general of the 6th Armored Division, which hardly could have been more complimentary. It indicated a feeling which was reciprocated completely on the part of men of the 134th who remembered the courage, the audacity and belligerency, the effectiveness, and helpfulness of that division in actions around the Gremecey Forest, around Puttelange, in the Ardennes. It said in part:
|2. The Combat Team accomplished each of its missions promptly and effectively. The cooperation extended by Colonel Miltonberger and the battalion and organization commanders was most cordial and effective. The attitude of the personnel of this Division can best be expressed by stating that all ranks would greatly welcome the 134 CT as an organic part of the Division or in any manner in which the fortunes of war bring us together.|
|Map of Ardennes Bulge|
|They got a German command car in Lutrebois|
|Lt. Col. Wood and Maj. Heffelfinger . . . the 3rd Battalion C.P. . . . in a war-torn chateau|
|Burnt tanks softened by the snow . . . at Lutrebois they knocked out 25|
|The 3rd Battalion's Lt. Mike Hanna (S-2) and Capt. Sam Houston (S-3) . . . they were glad that the C.P. had held|
|Cannon Company was here|
|A Baily Bridge on the supply route of the 134th|
|In position - machine gunners of Company M|
|In the woods north of Lutrebois - more dead Germans than ever|
|It took snow plows to keep the route open to Bastogan. - 2nd picture - In Bastogne|
|Buster Brown recieved the DSC from General Baade|
|Once more the 68th Tank Battalion carried the infantrymen|
Return to 134th Infantry Regiment Combat History Table of Contents