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
Early November, 1944
Sgt. Anthony Frank, F Troop, 42nd Squadron
Moncourt (map 29a)(map OHW) may not mean anything to most people but just the name of some French town. But to the 1st Platoon of F Troop and members of A Troop it means the place where we spent some of the most gruesome days of our army career.
It was just getting dark as we were relieving the Battalion of the 26th Division, what was left of them, that had taken the town of Moncourt. That was that Infantry outfit’s first taste of combat, and believe me, they learned the hard way.
It was raining as we entered the town and the smell of burned wood and men hung heavy in the air. Doughboys who had been wounded in the days battle were in some of the cellars, in many cases with no other medical aid then that given by some of their buddies who were not so seriously wounded. There were also American and German wounded laying out in the fields in the rain. Every once in a while you could here a dying man cry out.
Our tank platoon with A Troop took up positions on the four roads leading into town. All four were in view of the enemy. A fifth led to the rear to our lines, and that was a slim one. On the farthest road there were two tanks, and on the other three, one tank apiece. All tanks had their full crews plus some of A Troop’s men. Our CP was well on the road to our lines, deep in a cellar.
Little did we realize, as we organized for the night, that we would have eight continuous days of heavy artillery and mortar fire. Many times so heavy that the men could not eat. At night we would put our tanks way out on the edge of town. Early in the morning we would bring them back in again. During the day we could watch the enemy in their dug in position from Ley (map 29a) to Haut de la Croix (map OHW), and they probably could watch us, for any time anybody would start to walk around the town, artillery would fall heavily. We were supported by our assault guns and a platoon of TD’s. Patrols would go out every night, both ours and the enemy’s.
One little incident happened about the third night we were there. It was very dark as it was eleven o’clock on a starless night. Our Platoon Sgt., Meola, and my gunner, Fox, were on guard, sitting in the tank on the edge of town. The rest of us were in a cellar and about asleep, when we heard a burst of machine gun fire. A patrol of three Germans had approached within 20 yards of the tank without knowing the tank was there. So hearing the Germans talking, the tank opened fire. One dropped his machine pistol and all three ran away. The following night that particular position was heavily hit by artillery and mortar fire, but no damage was done, that is, to our tanks.
Our engineers used to come in at night to mine the roads leading into town for us. One night they came in with fourteen men and 150 mines on a truck. The truck stopped by the CP before going on to lay the mines, in order to pick up the latest dope on the situation. Outside the CP were two of our men on guard, one from A Troop and one from the Tank Platoon. The rest of us were in the cellars when we heard a terrific explosion that rocked the whole town. Nobody felt curious enough to go snooping around in the dark to see what it might have been. One fellow said it was an unexploded bomb which had been dropped some time before and had just gotten around to going off. Another figured that only a buzz bomb could shake up a town that badly. Regardless of our efforts to convince each other that it was all over, we spent a very restless night.
The next morning we saw what had happened. The 150 mines on the truck had gone off, killing fourteen engineers and our two men on guard. The truck could not be found, just a little piece of metal here and there. The same was true of the men’s bodies, except our two guards who were still in one piece. To this day we don’t know what happened, but probably a mortar shell hit the truck and set off the mines.
After eight days of this hell the men were getting fed up and starting to go to pieces. We sergeants asked our platoon leader if we could get some relief and he, realizing that we were all in bad shape, asked that we be replaced by another tank platoon, which was done.
That was an unforgettable eight days. I saw men cry and blow their tops, but I never saw a man in our position slack up on his job. He knew it was kill or be killed. He never for a moment thought of how little he was receiving for the great price he was paying. That only a soldier can realize.
Group reported on 12 November that, “Troop C, 42d Squadron reinforced with tanks made a reconnaissance in force into Ley and located German gun positions supporting about one Company of Infantry in prepared positions with mined approaches.”