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
Bill Oakley and Jim Smith, F Company, 42d Squadron
On the morning of November 26th, the 3rd Platoon of F Company was in a small village called Porcelette (map 30), near St. Avold (map 30), with A Troop’s CP, when one of their reconnaissance platoons radioed for support, and of course that meant us. We proceeded through a dense wooded area until we were temporarily halted by artillery fire. But due to the fact that we had tanks and the woods were good cover for us, we immediately moved on toward our objective.
At nine o’clock we reached the edge of the town, joined the reconnaissance team, and had a short briefing on the situation. They had already been in town and had been driven out, so our job was to go in and stay in. The main street leading straight through to the other side of town didn’t look too healthy, for there were still Jerries in the town. However, we still had our mission to do, so in we went with ten dismounted men protecting the tanks. We went well into the town and then found a crater blown in the road. The tanks could advance no farther. At this point we cornered and captured some Krauts in a large building.
Meanwhile the first section of three tanks moved over on the left side of the town to clean out some Jerries in a grave yard, and the fifth tank in our section moved back more than half way to the other end of the town, leaving the fourth to hold what we had taken with the help of the reconnaissance people. We started drawing mortar, artillery and small arms fire. My tank commander was told to place his tank between two buildings, although we would have been exposed to the enemy. He hesitated long enough to think it over and we thanked God that he did, because not more than three minutes later three shells, probably 88’s, came through that opening and almost demolished the small house on the other side of the road. We could hear the people that were in the cellar of the house that was hit praying very loudly. The artillery started coming in like honey bees, so we moved back a few feet. God surely guided us that day, for in less than ten minutes a mortar shell hit in the exact spot where we had been sitting before. Where we moved this time placed us close to some buildings on the right side of the street. A shell hit a chimney on one of these buildings and showered us with bricks and black soot. We looked like black faced comedians, but sure didn’t feel like one.
We had now been sitting in our tank all day watching for targets of opportunity and dodging artillery. It had begun to get dark, and anyone who has had any dealings with tanks knows that they aren’t much good at night, so we dismounted and contacted the rest of the reconnaissance team that was left with us. We got our guards out and assembled in a house. At that moment a very pretty French girl came out of the dugout back of the house and offered to make coffee for us. She finally did get it made but we didn’t get to drink it, for the Jerries tore loose with a mortar barrage on a machine gun nest we had set up to cover an open field. The boys manning the gun escaped injury, but some of the shells came through a glass house that was built on the outside. We thought the house we were in had been hit, so everyone took off for the cellar, where we spent a sleepless night among rotten potatoes and other stinking waste, while 88’s and mortars whined overhead.
At five o’clock the next morning as we were relieving the two guards at the front and rear door, everything seemed quiet and peaceful, and then suddenly all hell broke loose. Off to our left a burp gun that we couldn’t see opened up, and about fifty yards down another one started firing, and then artillery started coming in. A Jerry patrol had sneaked in and they gave us a hot time until we drove them back to their own lines. We found out later that the burp gun we couldn’t see had been fastened down with a string tied to the trigger so they could use it for harassing fire.
After that was over, we sat back and waited for whatever was in store for us. We hadn’t seen our other tanks since the day we came into this town, and neither had we gotten any word from our platoon leader. My tank crew had begun to feel like the forgotten four, since the rest of the reconnaissance boys had left that particular place to set up in another part of town. Of course the Jerries hadn’t forgotten us, they remembered too well! All that day we waited and sweated for our own artillery and infantry support. We had plenty more close calls during the day.
One shell came in and tore half the roof off while the assistant driver of our tank was upstairs. It didn’t hurt him any except that his feelings were considerably bruised and his nerve ends slightly tattered. Another one landed close to the back door where one of the tank crew was observing, and knocked him down the cellar steps. That afternoon Frank Smith, the assistant driver, made contact with our platoon leader by running back and forth under artillery fire. It won him the Bronze Star and five more points. We were told to sit tight and hold until we got some support. It was now the evening of the second day, and we were all beginning to feel a little shaky, wondering how long it was going to last.
(Note: A few hundred yards south of this tank, Calderwood’s platoon of B Troop was making a night attack at a blown RR overpass. Kraut MG’s, burp guns and Panzerfausts firing at a range of ten yards repulsed the thrust, which cost us the life of Roger Harrel, a former clerk.)
Just when we thought we were going to have to spend another night alone, an officer of the 5th Infantry Division and one from an artillery Battalion come down to where we were. I have never been so glad to see anyone in my whole life. A little later a welcome sight met our eyes as we looked over the hill and saw two long lines of the 5th Infantry Division coming along, followed by artillery support. Then we knew that those Jerries were going to get a hard time.
That night wasn’t as bad as the one before, although plenty of stuff came in from the enemy side. We left early the next morning, but we left a town looking much different than it did when we went in. Many of the buildings were wrecked, with the roofs gone and large gaping holes torn in the side of them. We didn’t care, all we wanted was sleep and a good hot meal.
At the beginning of December the Group was disposed as follows: The 42d Squadron was assembled in St. Avold, the Group Headquarters and 2d Squadron were assembled in Longeville – Les St. Avold (map 30). 2d Squadron in reserve. The 42d sent small reconnaissance patrols to the Foret de Steinberg (map 30) to determine enemy positions. On the 2nd, Troop E, 42d Squadron, sent a dismounted patrol to Cite Jeanne d’ Arc (map 30) to determine enemy activity. Situation of the 42d remained static.