Attack From The Rear

From:
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

1 Apr – 20 Apr 1945

On the night of April 1, 1945, the 2d Squadron Rear Echelon moved into the town of Waldensberg, Germany (map 39). At this time the Squadron Headquarters was located at Wittgenborn, about three kilometers away. During the night four guards were posted throughout the town. This seemed like more than an adequate number, as after all we were far in the rear and the German army was on the run, according to our latest papers.

The Rear Echelon had one armored car with them for the purpose of radio communication with Squadron Headquarters. At approximately 0430 the next morning, one of the guards came running to the Commanding Officer, Capt. John W. Mayfield, to report that eight German vehicles had just passed through town. It was still quite dark out, but T/5 Walter S. Wojciechowski, one of the roving guards, positively identified them as enemy vehicles. The radio operator, T/4 Marion E. Harsla, immediately radioed the information to Squadron. Runners were sent out to alert the men. The crew of the armored car hastily mounted up and stood by.

About half an hour later the guard came running to report that another German column with about 38 vehicles, led by a tank, was starting through the town. A flash message was sent to Squadron by T/5 Sidney Berg, informing them of the number and type of vehicles headed their way. Due to their lack of fire power and poor position, Capt. Mayfield ordered his men to hold their fire until they were fired upon. It was still quite dim, so that the German column went by without noticing the American vehicles parked throughout the town. About 0530 a third column, which consisted of 10 or 12 vehicles loaded with men, started through town. A German officer in the lead vehicle, which was an American jeep, noticed T/5 Dwight Gardner, 2d Squadron water truck driver, standing near an armored car which had been brought to the rear for repair. The German officer yelled, “Amerikaners!” and halted his column. Gardner jumped into the armored car, opened up on the lead vehicle with a .50 caliber MG and knocked it out. That started the big fight! The Germans piled out of their vehicles and opened fire.

The armored car crew, Sgt. Godfrey V. Dwyer, T/5 Rodney Bridges, and T/5 Sidney Berg, were ordered to move out to the edge of town and cover the flank. Berg immediately opened fire with his 37mm and .30 caliber co-axial on the enemy vehicles which had stopped outside of the town. The car commander observed some dismounted men coming up on the right flank of the armored car. Berg stopped their advance with the machine gun. By this time the Germans had an AT gun set up and were trying to knock out the armored car. One shell hit the left side but the shrapnel did not penetrate the armor. After a couple of more close ones, Dwyer ordered the driver to move back and cover the other flank.

T/Sgt. Charles A. Franz of the S-4 section was the first one in his section to find out the German column was in town. He immediately woke up all the men in his group. A few minutes later the S-4 men heard the chatter of machine guns outside. T/5 John E. Donohue was so surprised at the suddenness of it all, that he started to take his bedroll out to the vehicle. T/5 Joseph V. Ferrizzi saw him and yelled, “Get the hell out of the doorway, the streets are full of Krauts!” That sort of brought Donohue to his senses. Ferrizzi was shooting at the Germans with his M1 through the front room window. The men that did not get out of the house in time, stayed upstairs until the Germans started shelling the town and throwing grenades. They had no other choice then to take to the cellar.

T/5 Frank Veldhuis was on guard when the German column came through town. After reporting to Capt. Mayfield, he ran down to wake up S/Sgt. Mike Bellanca of the Transportation Platoon. By the time everybody was dressed the shooting had started, and Bellanca and his men were cut off from the CP. Pfc. Roland R. Guay started out the back door, but two Germans were out back, so he called Sgt. Ballanca to aid him. Bellanca killed one of them and Pfc. Ben Sowers, who just came up, saw the other one and shot him. They were all standing around in the street wondering what to do next, when they saw Pfc. William E. Roots standing by the corner of a building with the barrel of his carbine in his hand. At first they couldn’t figure out what he was up to, but then they saw a German soldier creeping along the side of the building. Roots broke his carbine over the German’s face. He had run out of ammo and was using his weapon for a club.

Bellanca decided to try to make a break for the CP and Pfc. Glenn T. Page volunteered to go with him. The small arms fire was so intense that they had to turn back. On the way back Page was hit and fell in the street. Bellanca started back up the street to get him, but two of his buddies, Cpl. Paul H. Brooks and Pfc. Harold H. Friedly, yelled at him to stay back, and said that they could get Page as he had fallen right near their house. That was the last time Bellanca saw those three men because they were all seriously wounded during the day.

After fighting from house to house, Sgt. Bellanca, with about 13 other men, made a break for the woods. After walking four hours and hiding from German patrols, they met a German Major, one Captain and two Lieutenants who wanted to surrender. They questioned the Major and he told them that there were some American troops in Budingen (map VI)(map 39). The Major finally led them to the town, where they were picked up by the 204th Engineers, who in turn took them to C Troop of the 2d Squadron.

Meanwhile the armored car started to move towards the other flank, but was stopped by a warning shout from one of the men fighting dismounted, “There’s some Krauts coming up behind the car!”

Sgt. Dwyer saw them and opened up with his tommy gun. T/5 Bridges slammed open his front hatch and picked off a couple of Jerries who were sneaking up with grenades. The armored car then proceeded across the road to the other side of town. As they moved into position Dwyer observed at least 10 Germans about 500 yards away, coming up on a straight line. Berg immediately started cutting them down with MG fire. Harsla was fighting dismounted, so the driver operated the radio and gave Squadron a running account of the battle until the Jerries shot the radio antenna off.

There were about 15 men fighting dismounted around the CP. Most of them were from the Squadron Maintenance Platoon. They did everything they could to keep the Germans from coming in and surrounding them, but the odds were too great. It seemed like practically every building in town was burning from mortar and shell fire. The Germans were coming in from four sides. Captain Mayfield and his driver, T/4 Perry J. Long, were standing out in front of the CP building when a sniper opened up and killed them both. Capt. Winston C. Hill assumed command of the remaining members of the Rear Echelon. He saw that the situation was almost hopeless, so he ordered the remaining men around him to mount up on the armored car and the two jeeps that were parked nearby. Under a hail of small arms fire, these men started across the open field for the woods. After going about 200 yards the vehicles all bogged down in a creek. The men jumped out and started running for the woods. The Germans saw them and opened up with a heavy machine gun barrage. Luckily none of the men were hit and all made it to the woods. After they arrived and got their breath back, S/Sgt. Harold T. Cooley volunteered to take a patrol out and try to locate friendly forces. Harsla volunteered to crawl back out to the armored car and radio Squadron Headquarters, to bring them up to date on the latest happenings. After Harsla returned, Capt. Hill decided that the best thing to do was to try and contact a friendly unit. Luckily Lt. Matthew F. Hardee, Transportation Officer, had brought a compass and map with him. Lt. Hardee set the course and led the remaining eight men through the woods. After walking about three hours, in which time they had to by-pass a German patrol, they finally met a C Troop combat team, which took the men to the Troop CP.

In the meantime 2d Squadron Headquarters were having their own troubles. The head of the German column which had passed on through Waldensberg, ran into the rear of and promptly attacked the headquarters installation. Major Wyles hastily assembled a small group of armored cars and light tanks and moved out to repel the attack. Rapid and accurate fire soon destroyed the head of the enemy column, and with a small force the Major moved to the flank where, while part of his force kept the enemy from advancing down the road, he and his men prevented deployment by attacking the flank of the German column. Despite heavy enemy attacks and continuous fire throughout the day, the two small groups held the Germans in position until midday, when a Battalion of the 71st Division arrived and settled the situation.

While the 2d Squadron Headquarters was having its hands full trying to defend itself, other units were forming and moving to the relief of Waldensberg. T/4 Chester Harmon, after his radio failed, voluntarily started out for help, and making his way across an open field under heavy fire, finally succeeded in reaching elements of an Infantry Battalion. He explained the situation to the Battalion Commander and his Squadron Commander whom he contacted a little later, and led the way back to town, personally fighting dismounted against the enemy and leading tanks back to the survivors of the Rear Echelon. Major Steinmetz, with two tanks and the security platoon of Group Headquarters, was moving rapidly up to the relief. His group attacked the enemy on the flank and stopped their advance. Although the Major was slightly wounded, he stayed with and directed his group until they succeeded in making contact with the Infantry Battalion that was moving to the relief of the town. Both groups then moved to the attack together.

The 42d Squadron Rear Echelon, stationed in a nearby town, also sent a relief column consisting of all available men. Sgt. Peterson especially distinguished himself by killing at least 15 of the enemy and taking 18 prisoners in one house alone. Sgt. Peterson and his men traveled 3,000 yards across open fields to secure the help of an Infantry unit halted in a wood. He returned and he and his men cleared the ditches of the enemy, advancing as far as our outposts. Just at this point they were pinned down by enemy fire from a nearby hill and a stone wall. Sgt. Peterson, defying almost certain death, made a run for help and returned with a tank. With this additional fire power he and his men soon disposed of the snipers. By this time the Infantry was moving up to take the situation in hand.

Lt. Kraatz of the 42d Squadron, organized a tank platoon out of hastily gathered elements of a Headquarters platoon and quickly moved to attack a vastly superior enemy. He was painfully injured and though relieved by a friendly element, volunteered to assist in the mop-up. His unit accounted for 300 enemy dead.

In the meantime, the men of S-4 section that had remained in the cellar had no idea of what became of the rest of the Rear Echelon, or what various columns were on the way to their relief. About 10:30 A.M. they heard the rumble of tanks, then there was a terrific explosion upstairs, followed by a great deal of small arms fire. They later learned that the explosion was caused by one of the tanks attached to Group Headquarters, which was knocked out right in front of their house. T/5 William A. Stehley of the 42d was riding the rear deck of that tank when it was hit. When the attack of the Germans rolled into the area, Stehley was in an assembly area nearby distributing ammunition from his truck. When elements of the security section prepared to counter-attack for the relief of our men in town, Stehley boarded one of the supporting tanks to assist in the assault. Upon entering town Stehley was riding the rear deck manning the .50 caliber machine gun. In the course of the fight an enemy panzerfaust team succeeded in taking the tank under fire and knocking it out, killing two of the crew. Stehley was knocked from the tank and painfully wounded in the neck, but nevertheless secured a rifle, killed several of the enemy who were holding up the advance, and assisted in the capture of 40 prisoners while clearing houses.

For the next half hour the S-4 men waited, listening and praying with all their might. About 11:30 A.M., they heard the rumble of more tanks, then hell really broke loose. There was explosion after explosion, shrapnel was flying all over the house. After the shooting quieted down the men in the cellar heard a voice outside, which sounded like an angel from Heaven saying, “Give me a grenade, there’s somebody in the cellar”. There was no mistaking that voice. It was a real live American. T/5 Henry A. Harrison, one of the men in the cellar, hastily opened the door and shouted, “Hold it fellows, we’re GI’s”. After relating their story to their rescuers, who were members of the 71st Infantry Division, some of them went along with the Infantry in the mopping up operations. The rest of the S-4 men went to seek their missing comrades.

The Germans were eventually driven into the woods north of Breitenborn (map 39). Elements of the 71st Division were called on to pocket the German force from the south and to clear the town of Liesenwald (map 39). The 42d Squadron was given a new mission, following the attack, and deployed B and C Troops on the line Hellstein (map 39), Holzmuhl to intercept enemy groups infiltrating to the southeast.

During the days operations the losses for the Group were 7 killed, 10 wounded, 20 missing, 2 tanks knocked out and 10 other vehicles missing. 40 enemy vehicles were destroyed, 150 enemy killed and 200 captured.

PW statements indicated that the attack of the 6th SS Mountain Division on our rear was almost entirely an accident, as the Division had split up and was merely trying to escape. One PW stated that the Division was 26,000 strong when it left Finland, and was considered the strongest and best equipped fighting unit among the SS Divisions. After having been engaged in the fighting along the Mosel river, the Division assembled and reorganized in Usingen (map VI), where approximately 8,000 men were loaded on German and American trucks. There was also enough gasoline captured to carry the remnants of this Division into the central part of Germany. On the route of this column, stretching for miles, they traveled only by night, by-passing any towns or larger villages. They reached Osrossbach the first day, and after a few artillery engagements, arrived at a point 2 kilometers west of Bad Nauheim (map VI). In spite of casualties on the way, the Division strength increased on account of more stragglers being picked up from various reserve and training Battalions as the Division moved along. On 1 April, the column was split at Kefenroth in two columns, of which the larger one headed southeast while 12 vehicles with 80 men traveled due south to Waldensberg. There, after a short engagement, about 200 men were liberated from an American PW cage. Then the column turned southwest, heading for the Budingen woods where they were surprised by five American vehicles plus one assault gun. One PW stated that these were knocked out and the personnel killed, while they themselves, suffered minor losses in men and vehicles. The officer in charge decided to go ahead without vehicles, and selected a new route to Gelnhausen (map VI)(map 39) by circling the woods in a northwest direction, then bearing south along the edge of the woods.

Two Frenchmen of the SS, members of the French contingent of the Division, stated that it split into three columns the night of 30 – 31 March in the vicinity of Butzbach (map VI), with the mission to move southeast, break through the American rear lines and try to reach the German lines. The three columns followed one another on the same route. The spearhead column consisted of 400 men with two American tanks, two anti-tank guns, 8 jeeps and twelve 2 1/2 ton trucks. All the spearhead column was equipped with captured American vehicles. After the fight on April 2, the elements of the Division still intact received orders from Division Headquarters, then in Liesenwald, that the Division was dissolved as such that the men were to make their way through the American lines in small groups.

Shortly after this order was issued, we attacked the remnants of the force at Liesenwald and dispersed it.

On the 3rd of April, 2d Squadron was attached to the 71st Division for operational control. They intercepted small enemy groups infiltrating to the south toward Wirtheim (map 39). 42d Squadron sent Troop A to Rommert, screening between Flieden, where the 121st Cavalry was contacted, and Dorfborn.

2d Squadron was attached to the 17th Armored Group on the 4th, while the Group, minus 2d Squadron, was ordered to protect Corps south flank from Fulda (map VI) to the Ulster river. The next day 42d Squadron moved to Hofbieber and established a screen along the line BockeisBatten. Group moved to Hofbieber, 2d Squadron moved to Bermutshain, A Troop patrolled the MSR while B, C and F Troops cleared a woods of enemy forces.

On April 6, 2d Squadron minus, moved to vicinity of Schlitz (map VI). In this vicinity the Germans tried to counter-attack with about 100 men on one of our platoons. Sgt. Charles D. Turner and T/5 Joseph A. Mitchell, with two other men, established themselves on the flank of the platoon. Every German effort to turn that flank and drive the platoon out of position was repulsed, and the attack soon petered out. The Group less the 2d Squadron was relieved of its mission and assembled in the vicinity of Hofbieber, Langer and Eschwisbach.

The screen established by the 42d Squadron on the 7th was soon uncovered by advancing elements of the Seventh Army. The 8th brought another long jump. 42d Squadron moved to Henneberg and Troop C had forward elements as far as Exdorf (map 40). B Troop was held up at Nordheim (map 40) where an enemy Company supported by two AT guns resisted strongly.

Troop B jumped off at 0700 the morning of the 9th and cleared the town of Nordheim by 0900. Troop C captured Rentswerthuasen (map 40) and took two 280mm railroad guns intact. The attack continued on through Queienfeld (map 40) and Wolfmannshausen (map 40). Troop A attacked at 0730, and by 1120 had pushed as far as Romhild (map VI)(map 40) and Dingsleben (map 40). By 1700 the Troop was in Bedheim (map 40). To the north the 2d Squadron was echeloned slightly to the rear, with A Troop at Borsch and B Troop at Mannsbach.

On the 10th A Troop, 42d Squadron, ran into resistance at Seidlingstadt (map 40), and an organized position running along the woods to the northeast. Troops B and C reinforced, were committed, B pushing to the south from Linden (map 40) and meeting resistance at Huabinda (map 40). One kilometer to the NW Henry Lane’s platoon mowed down a fanatical German force that attacked until they were destroyed. C moved south from Gleicherwiesen (map 40) and met resistance in the woods. However, with one platoon of Troop E in close support, the vicinity was cleared by 1630. Troop A was still unable to enter Seidlingstadt and lost one M24 tank to AT fire. The platoon of which Pvt. William V. Wood was a member, approached the town in a heavy ground fog that sharply curtailed visibility. They engaged the enemy entrenched in the town in a sharp exchange of small arms fire. While attempting to deploy their vehicles to more advantageous positions, the unit was suddenly hit on the right flank by point-blank AT fire from Hill 344 (map 40) in the adjacent woods. The fire knocked out one of the light tanks, killing three of the crew and wounding the fourth. Caught in this cross-fire, a prompt withdrawal was indicated, but the enemy AT fire made this impossible. Seeing the perilous predicament of the entire platoon, Pvt. Wood, disregarding his own personal safety, directed machine gun fire so effectively upon the enemy gun emplacement as to pin down its crew. He maintained his fire until his entire platoon had effected a safe withdrawal. Troop A partially surrounded the town to seal it in and sent a platoon on to Holzhausen (map 40). Troop B pushed on to the south taking Gompertshausen (map 40) at 1715.

Another long jump on the 11th. By evening the 42d Squadron had pushed to a line Coburg (map VII), Haarth, Gleussen. The next day Troop C reached the Main river again and pushed reconnaissance east looking for possible crossing sites. A bridge site was located at Miehelau, where Sgt. Quinn of C Troop Maintenance Section went to work. Meredith blew some steel stringers hanging in the way, and by winching and floating on logs, some ten jeeps and a force of men were crossed to the south bank and established a bridgehead. Company C of the 285th Combat Engineer Battalion had a bridge in by 2100. Squadron Headquarters moved to Miehelau. B Troop maintained contact with the 5th Infantry Division. Elements of the 2d Squadron were still patrolling the MSR, occasionally meeting slight resistance. During the 13th, the 42d Squadron made a 20 mile jump to the south, reaching Thurnau (map 41).

On the morning of the 14th, the 42d Squadron jumped off at 0700 to make a run for the south side of Bayreuth (map VII)(map 41) to cut off German columns passing through the city ahead of the charging 11th Armored. Troops A and B reached the Busbach (map 41), Bayreuth highway by 1100. By 1450 the autobahn south of Bayreuth was cut just south of Gesees (map 41) by A Troop.

Troop B passed through A Troop and pushed east across the autobahn, penetrating to Weidenberg (map 41) and setting up a screen which cut off relief from Bayreuth as well as sealing the routes of withdrawal. During the days action 444 prisoners were taken. 2d Squadron continued to patrol the MSR, Squadron Headquarters moving to Mistelgau (map 41).

The following morning Troop C pushed into the south part of Bayreuth and aided the 71st Division in mopping up the town, taking 580 prisoners. Corps directed the Second Cavalry Group to assemble for a 48 hour maintenance period, which we sorely needed. The next two days were spent in maintenance, and of course, patrolling the roads and sending small groups here and there to investigate reported enemy activity. 2d Squadron continued its MSR security mission.

On the 18th the 42d Squadron moved far north to Hof (map 41), Troop A going into the lines between Viedenberg (map 42) and Passack, between the 28th Cavalry of the 1st Army on the north and the 338th Infantry on the south, and patrolled to the Czech border. The 2d Squadron was returned to Group control this day, and moved to Hof on the 19th. Troop A of the 42d moved out at 0700, clearing the woods north of Rehau (map 42). At 1300 Troop C moved into its zone and began pushing east from Rehau, encountering road blocks and small arms fire. Troop B moved up in preparation for a move to the south around Asch (map VII)(map 42) to cut all escape routes. Advance elements of the Squadron closed on Asch and prepared to assault the town.

Attempts to force an entry into the city before dark failed, so on the morning of the 20th, C Troop was sent to work around the north and B to the south of the city. About noon, S/Sgt. Garo’s reconnaissance platoon plus S/Sgt. Joseph Carpenter’s section, supported by the tank platoon led by Lt. Samuel Fowler, entered the city from the north.

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