SECOND UNITED STATES CAVALRY – A HISTORY
Compiled, edited and published by Historical Section, Second Cavalry Association
Maj. A. L. Lambert and Cpt. G. B. Layton, 2d Cavalry
Lt. Col. George England and one of the 42nd Squadron Staff Officers met the Third Army Chief of Intelligence, Lt. Col. May, at Army Hqs at Bad Tolz in December 1945, where the plan was disclosed for the employment of the Second Cavalry forces.
It was learned that Arthur Axmann, one of Hitler’s key men, and the founder of the Hitler Jugend organization, was pretty far advanced in his plans for a national underground movement in Germany.
He had already made trips through the British, French, Russian and American zones undetected by allied authorities, organizing strong terrorist groups in each zone.
American intelligence agents had discovered that he was in the Sonthofen (map SM) area and planned to trap him. Since there were thousands of members of Axmann’s organization which allied authorities were not yet ready to close in on, it was of utmost importance that no one should learn of their leaders capture, if it was effected. Hence the top secret designation.
The plan for the trap was simple. Troop A of the 42nd Sq. was to move to the Kempten (map SM) area the day before Axmann was to leave and set up a double ring of road blocks as in a routine “swoop” operation. Now Axmann, carrying carefully forged papers, had passed through similar checks and was not expected to be suspicious. Only this time every man of the blocking force was to be carefully oriented as to Axmann’s appearance. (Most distinguishing feature, an artificial hand, memento of action against the Russians.) Alert American agents even provided the make and license number of the car that was expected to come after the former Hitler Jugend leader. One precaution was aired at the conference at Bad Tolz. Axmann’s right hand man, Meininger, was known to be with him, and he always contacted the visitors that were to see Axmann. Even Meininger did not know where his chief would be until after he had set the time for the contact. At a place maybe five miles away Axmann would call and designate the meeting place in code to Meininger.
It was further pointed out that the open snow stretches to Axmann’s supposed hideout (map SM) high on the mountain bordering Austria would prevent anyone getting close to it undetected. A suicide in this little game would be failure. (The utter necessity of taking Axmann alive, because of his knowledge of Hitler’s and Boremann’s activities, as well as his own desirability by the War Crimes Commission was quite apparent.)
Thus informed the Second Cavalry Staff Officers returned to Freising where Lt. William C. Pridgen had Troop A alerted for the move. Capt. Jeremiah C. Ryan had scoured the Squadron for capable radio operators and an efficient radio net was in operation.
A map reconnaissance (map SM) of the critical area was made and nine tentative road block locations were selected and assigned to the reconnaissance teams of A Troop.
As the troop wasn’t to leave until the following morning, only the officers were given the maps and briefing instructions, including pictures of the wanted man, who remained unnamed throughout the remainder of the operation. That same afternoon two Staff Officers from the 42nd Squadron together with Sgt. Thompson of A Troop and four other men moved out to Kempten, in the southwest corner of Germany, to arrange billets for the rest of the troop when it arrived the following day, and to set up some telephone connected observation posts along the possible routes of escape open to our quarry.
In Kempten we contacted the Third Army Chief of Intelligence. Sgt. Thompson was shown the location of the telephones belonging to an Infantry Battalion of the 1st Division. Suitable OP’s were selected but not occupied and Sgt. Thompson’s men bedded down with an Infantry Company in Kempten.
Lt. Col. May and the 42nd Cavalry Staff Officer went to Sonthofen to the C.P. of Lt. Col. Brant who commanded the Infantry Battalion in that area. Col. Brant was told of the plan and directed to seal off the Austrian border and the French zone border, where the control posts were manned by his unit. It was well after midnight when all the details were straightened out, including the installation of an additional telephone line to a bridge in Kempten where the 42nd Cavalry was to set up a road block. The Infantry Battalion was in the process of changing their wire nets, and even the crews laying the wire did not guess the significance of that new line.
As the party of conspirators returned to Kempten they ran into great snow drifts which their car could not buck. After pushing and digging for half an hour in a nasty biting blizzard of snow it began to look like an all night dance when an American 6X6 truck came along and pushed the staff car for about half a mile through the most difficult spots on the road. From Immenstadt (map SM) to Kempten it had been cleared by plows so everyone enjoyed a few hours rest that night.
In the cold gray dawn of a blustery December day, A Troop held its briefing in Freising prior to jumping off. Team locations were pointed out on the map and everyone took a squint at the pictures of our “criminal”. We memorized the description of the car and its number, then the pictures were collected so they wouldn’t be lost.
Without further ado the troopers mounted up and we moved out in the bitter cold. The route of march lay through Munich and Kaufbeuren (map SM), and a blizzard of snow.
At Kaufbeuren, the Major met us and the platoons were split to move by the most direct route to the tentative positions. Once there, the team commander would reconnoiter to determine the best position in that vicinity, and report by radio if it was found necessary to leave the designated location.
Cpl. Barr set up station No.1 (map SM) near Kaufbeuren, and Lt. Ray, leading three teams after Mahoney dropped off at Obersdorf, headed south towards Nesselwang (map SM), bucking heavy snow drifts. We ran off the road once with a jeep and had to fall out and heave it to. Some roads were completely impassable, but we made Nesselwang and Wertach (map SM) all right. Kiraly, though, just couldn’t get to Obergau (map SM) where station No.5 was supposed to be because it was really snowed in. They even tried to approach the place from Immerstadt but no dice.
Then it was getting dark and Lt. Ray put Kiraly’s team at Mittelberg covering the roads from Kempten.
Sgt. Thompson set up his telephone posts before dark so the teams could be alerted in case our bird attempted to fly the coop a little early.
Temporary Troop Headquarters were set up at Kempten where the Chief of Intelligence joined the Second Cavalry leaders after dark. The radio operators spent long hours in the bitter cold at their sets trying to get all stations into the NCS at the Kempten C.P.
Station No.8 (map SM) way up in Memmingen was finally checked in by relay through Sgt. Alderete’s station, No.7 (map SM), by 2130 and all blocks were in position. All, that is, except team No.9, which was not to be posted until the following morning.
You see, this was the setup. The car was expected to come through Kaufbeuren from Munich at about 0800 the following morning. The blocks were set up on arrival (except the C.P. block which did not want to give away its location as the planned arrest was expected to be made there) in order to intercept “our little character” if he attempted to leave early by different means.
The road blocks at Kaufbeuren and Ober Gunzberg (map SM) were ordered to disappear between 0600 and 1000 giving the incoming car plenty of time to get into the trap without having suspicions aroused.
Sgt. Thompson’s men, who had been posted earlier in the day, occupied three observation posts set up in the outskirts of Immenstadt on the roads leading to Ober Staufen (map SM) itself. With excellent telephone communications, and the use of a simple code these men could report the movement of the wanted man along any road a car could pass. “Christmas” was the code name given the subject of their watch and the sample jibe of “Hello Joe, this is Baldy, Christmas is coming early this year”, would alert the surrounding posts and give the location of our quarry.
After all blocks had been checked, Lt. Col. May arrived at the C.P. and called a huddle. It seems that he had some plain clothes men in Ober Staufen who found out that “Junior” was due to have a three a.m. rendezvous with the leader of the Bavarian underground in a gasthaus in Ober Staufen. Now, where the plan to jump “the head” in his mountain hideout had been discarded as impractical due to the difficulty of climbing through the deep snow, and to the great chance of being seen, a well timed assault by night might work in a town.
We repeat: The necessity of taking him alive, because of his knowledge of Hitler’s and Boremann’s activities, as well as his own desirability, required that every precaution be taken to perform the capture before suicide could be attempted.
So an assault was planned. It was now near midnight and Lt. Pridgen awoke about ten of the men from Hqs section, and we formed into Tommy gun groups, the “inside men”, and rifle groups the “outside men”. Next, in the day room of the Infantry Company in Kempten we held a dry run of a man trap. With the ping pong table representing the gasthaus in Ober Staufen, the dismount point and the routes were pointed out and four men with rifles were stationed at the corners of the “house”, each covering two sides, while the Tommy gunners, formed into three man teams for each floor, learned their jobs supporting Lt. Col. May, Lt. Pridgen, and doctors armed with hypos, in making their search.
With high spirits the men headed for a few hours sack time before starting out at 0300.
However, just as the men left, Col. May returned to the C.P. with a stocky, dark haired man in civilian clothes. The Colonel was almost weeping, “Major, we’re sunk. The ‘car’ came all the way from Munich tonight and bumped into your outpost at Ober Gunzburg. My man was tailing the car and thinks they may be suspicious. Get out there and try to find out if they showed our hand, and we will try to jump the big boy tonight”.
The short dark man proved to be an American agent named Schmidt who was working on the case, and he offered the Major his German car as he too wanted to check up on the incident at the road block.
On the way back to Sgt. Alderete’s position Schmidt gave the Major all the details of the incident as he saw it from a distance. Now it was the Major’s job to interrogate the men at the block and determine if the men in the car were given any indication that they were “hot”.
It was still snowing slightly at 0215 as they passed through Borwang (map SM), when Schmidt, pointing to a farm house said, “there it is”, indicating the car that was coming after Axmann. “They seem to have settled in for the night.”
At Ober Gunzburg a flashlight waved the agent’s car to a halt and both men went in to see Sgt. Alderete.
“Sure, I was on post when that car came through”, stated one Pfc at the questioning.
“What were you supposed to do?”, inquired the Major.
“Why, let him go on through and pick up the guy we are after. Say, who is he? Boremann?”
The Major countered, “Could be. What did you do?”
“Well”, the man replied, “I saw that number and said to myself ‘this is it’, and started to run the two guys in. I knew I shouldn’t, but I just couldn’t let that car go. But just then the driver jumped out of the car, he was a tall son of a gun, and started arguing in English that he couldn’t start his car on the ice, and we shouldn’t have stopped him as his papers were O.K.” (Ed’ s note: The men realized the importance of this mission and many were overly anxious, like the trigger happy kids at the beginning of combat.)
“Why did you clip him with your carbine?” asked the Major, and the trooper’s eyes popped out.
“How did you know?”
Then Schmidt spoke up, “I was in the car behind him. Remember me?”
With that as a starter, the whole incident came out. The trooper went on to say that the tall man’s remarks made him see red so he pushed him around a bit, just to show him who was running the show. The other man in the car stood quietly by. (He was identified by Schmidt as one of the ring’s top gun men.)
The Corporal on duty at that time saw what was going on and sized up the situation immediately. He quickly checked the papers of the two men, said “Hell, these are all in order”, and sent them on their way. Half of the relief had to push the car to help them start on the icy road.
Thus it was that an arrogant attitude on the part of the car driver prevented the young guard from pulling a real boner and impounding the silver platter that was expected to bring us our golden goose.
Breathing sighs of relief, Schmidt and the Major left for Kempten, and noticed on the way that “the car” was still parked in the Borwang farmyard. They personally felt that the two underground operators were at least a bit nervous if they hadn’t guessed the truth.
At about 0530 on a winding icy hill in Kempten the car slid into a ditch and bellied up on the shoulder of the road. Everything was going wrong. Not knowing whether the planned attack on the Ober Staufen gasthaus was successful or not, Schmidt and the Major had a part to prepare to ready the trap for the carefully watched car. It is a game in which you don’t throw away any of your cards. Then, the Sergeant on the block at the Golden Eagle was waiting for the Major to give the word to set up.
“You know”, Schmidt said, “this case has been screwed up in so many ways, I just know it will come out perfect.”
For about 20 minutes Schmidt and the Major pushed and lifted and bounced that car around and broke all the chains before it slid loose and coasted down the hill. After a few more tries they made Col. May’s quarters, and a pall of gloom came out of the door as it opened.
Col. May related that just before the raiding party left for Ober Staufen, he received word from one of his agents. Axmann was meeting the Bavarian leader in a different gasthaus than the one his men has spotted. Rather than risk raiding the wrong house and scaring Axmann away he called the whole deal off.
Now we were back where we started. All depended on the incoming car and the Golden Eagle trap.
At about 0800 the Major left to check the concealment of the team at the Golden Eagle, for we certainly didn’t want a repetition of the last nights “SNAFU”. It was then estimated that the incoming car would pass through Kempten at 0820, so you can appreciate the sight that met the Major’s eyes at the Golden Eagle when he arrived at 0805.
The armored car was pulled out into the road, machine gun bantams covered the approaches and the Sergeant was busy checking the traffic in both directions. There must have been a low ceiling that day for the Major bounced off it a few times before the vehicles disappeared into barns and sheds, and the men swept out the tracks in the snow.
Yes, the Sergeant had remembered his instructions to stay hidden until the car went by and then go into position only when ordered by the Major, who was expected around 0800. But the Sergeant thought the car might have passed earlier in the morning, and wanting to be really on the ball, set up at fifteen minutes of eight. Over anxious? We were all hopped up.
Thompson’s men at the watch posts were checked and the minutes dragged by without the car appearing.
Back at the Golden Eagle, Col. May, the doctor and interpreters moved in, and plans were laid to handle the characters we expected to trap. It was important to get them inside, to more easily prevent a break or a suicide.
At about five of ten, “the car” whizzed by and we started sweating out the return trip. Had Axmann already gone out some other way? Would the men in the car tell him anything?
A dry run was being held for making the capture, when some agents arrived from the French forces to claim a few of the prospective prisoners as war criminals. Another agent suddenly arrived from Ober Staufen, a chubby, curly haired kid in ski clothes. “He’s on his way.”
Everyone tried to appear calm, but we could feel a cold sweat breaking out. Was it Hitler? Boremann?
Lt. Pridgen took off his insignia and went out to the guards post. The ten men from Hqs. Platoon took their places behind doors and in the hallway of the inn as the car approached.
Lt. Pridgen, stamping his feet and swinging his arms in the cold, waved the car to a halt. “Get your passes stamped. Over there.” He indicated the inn. The five men dismounted, dug out their papers and filed into the house. The Major with his hand extended for the nearest pass waited for them. As the last man entered the darkened hallway, the Major barked a command and whipped out a pistol. Ten troopers leaped from the shadows and clamped onto the German’s arms. The doctor, the Major and Lt. Pridgen, who came in immediately, scooped out the prisoners mouths with their fingers to eliminate any poison capsules sometimes carried under the tongue or lips. None were found. No weapons were located either.
The captives were gray with shock. They were whisked upstairs and still held, were lined up against a wall, while one after another they were taken to another room. There stripped of their clothes, the doctor examined them for hidden articles and an expert interrogator questioned them. A completely new set of clothes was given them and they were separately spirited away to different destinations.
The Second Cavalry escorted the two principal characters back to Freising, and from there Lt. Ray ran them up to Frankfurt to turn them over to the war crimes people.
The men kept their secret well, for they knew all but the name of the chief actor in our little drama at Kempten. We think it was well kept, for six months later when the story broke, the whole German underground that Axmann headed was rounded up before they learned of the true significance of the disappearance of their leader.
“Say”, Lt. Ray stated the day the story was released, “did you know that most of the guys that took part in that swoop went home without knowing who they picked off? I didn’t know it myself until I read it in the papers.”