Oh For The Life Of A Mortarman

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

old-computer-ii-27628 Dec 1944 – 10 January 1945

Cpl. Tom Myers, B Troop, 2d Squadron

Grevenmacher (map 33) hill, with three feet of snow and more snow in sight, a few days after Christmas, provided the setting for this never-to-be forgotten battle experience. The Troop mission was to screen the west side of the Moselle river for approximately five miles. And that we did. We were set up along the edge of a forest a little to the left of the town of Grevenmacher, overlooking the Moselle and two towns on the other side of the river, Wellen (map 33) and Nittel (map 33), that were securely held by the Krauts. We were supposed to act as teams, which is a ten man unit; we only had six men, but what is the difference? At that particular period, Von Rundstedt and his gorillas were raising hell, while the sun refused to shine. Remember?

As any Cavalryman will tell you, screening is a monotonous job at the best. You take your position and must stay on the alert day and night, just in case. Generally you operate for a period of from one day to a week. But this particular assignment lasted for 41 dreary days.

It was our second week on the hill and everyone was practically bug-eyed from watching the Krauts through field glasses and telescopes as they carried on across the river. They strutted around as though they owned the place. Well, at the time, they did, but it still burned us up. Just to make us a shade hotter under the collar, the only warm place we had, we had to sit by and watch Herman go into nice warm buildings to spend the night while all we had was a cross between a lean-to and tepee. In other words, our home would have been a disgrace to the Indians, although it was home sweet home to us.

One cold morning right after breakfast, we were all in a huddle, our feet stuck in the stove, when the guard informed us he had received a buzz on the phone that they were going to send up some mortars from a position about 500 yards to the left of us the next day. The next morning every man woke up with a gleam in his eye, and with more energy than was customary. The mortar crews set up, and a brief discussion was held as to what target should draw top priority. All agreed that the first target would be a house that observation had indicated was being used as a CP. So we began to tear the place down, brick by brick, with lots of HE mixed with a little white phosphorus. It didn’t take the Krauts long to get the idea that we were intent on breaking up their happy little home. They soon shagged their tales across the street, headed for another house. This hurried move drew a big grin from the gunners. After a short pause to prepare more ammo and to sight in on house number two, we cheerfully took up the task of knocking out Jerry’s new home. The second target proved more difficult than the first, until we hit on the idea of using some more white phosphorus. Jerry evidently didn’t care much for our way of amusing ourselves, for after the first few puffs of white smoke, out came the Krauts, once more seeking new lodgings. This time they thought it wise to scatter, or maybe they were just in an unusual hurry, for they zoomed off in all directions like a covey of quail, although less gracefully.

For our part we would have proceeded to tear down every house in town, but to our sorrow we discovered we were completely out of ammunition and couldn’t get more until the next day. So with grins a yard wide and a foot long, we went back to our posts considering our time well spent.

The very next morning Herman blew reveille for us with 120mm mortars. The 18 holes we found in the roof of our domicile proved that they were a little peeved about our jolly party of the day before. Some people have no sense of humor.

December 30th a small patrol, dispatched by CT Costello, moved into Machtum (map 33) and captured one prisoner, thereby identifying in that locality one platoon of the 1st Company of the 44th Machine Gun Battalion. The patrol had some little difficulty as the Germans were alert and sensitive to probing in that particular area. Vincent Michal, attached to Troop A from the French Army for liaison and interrogation work, volunteered to precede the patrol alone to a barbed wire entanglement to clear it of booby traps. Although he was slightly wounded in the ensuing fire fight, he continued in his efforts until he was successful in his mission. One member of the patrol fell seriously wounded and Pfc. William Feiner crawled forward under intense fire in order to reach the man. The fire became so furious that his platoon leader ordered him to return rather than take a chance on losing another man. In the meantime T/5 Paul Neffke attempted to crawl to the man from another direction. Although he was hit about the head he persisted in his attempts, until his platoon leader was able to attract his attention and order him back. For their fine example of selfless devotion to duty and to the welfare of a fellow soldier, Pfc. Feiner was awarded the Bronze Star and T/5 Neffke the Silver Star.

The first few days of January were relatively quiet, that is if constant patrolling and counter-patrolling can be considered quiet. The officers and men of the Second Cavalry became completely familiar with the methods of launching small boats and rowing silently across the river. However, at the same time, the Germans became quite proficient at discovering patrol activities, due to the immense amount of practical experience we were giving them. For instance, on 1 January three of our attempts to cross the Moselle near Ahn (map 33) were driven back by small arms and machine gun fire. The next day a 15 man patrol from A Troop, 2d Squadron, got into Machtum, but after a short fire fight was forced to withdraw without prisoners, and fortunately without casualties. Two of our six man patrols crossed the river near Wies (map 33) with the same result.

On the 3rd, two small ambush patrols from CT Costello set up on the far side of the river but were unable to entice any Jerries into their trap. The next day patrols in the vicinity of Machtum and across the river reported no contact, but sounds of vehicular activity were heard some three or four kilometers back in from the river.

Patrols to Machtum and across the Moselle on the 5th reported no enemy contact, but on the 6th a five man patrol from Troop C reported Machtum reoccupied. The enemy sent two small patrols into our area south of Machtum, and two members of the attached engineers were killed and one wounded.

Troop B, 42d Squadron sent a six man combat patrol to Chateau Thorn (map 33) across the Moselle on the seventh, and after a sharp fire fight during which they killed an estimated ten to fifteen of the enemy, withdrew without casualties. Patrols the next two days reported no contact, but an attempt to enter Machtum on the tenth was met by sharp small arms and mortar fire. Colonel Reed, becoming tired of the game of button, button, who’s got the button, that we were playing with the Jerries around Machtum, issued orders that it would be cleaned out the next day. C Troop of the 2d Squadron was selected for the task.

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