Operation "Hambone" Woods

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

WWII18 – 20 October 1944

The Third Army was jockeying for position for it’s Saar offensive. “26th Infantry Division will seize high ground Xanrey (map 29a)Moncourt (map 29a)(map OHW).”

However, the Moncourt ridge, which continued south from Moncourt down to the Marne au Rhin canal west of Xures (map 29a)(map OHW) was also in enemy hands. The Second Cavalry was directed to seize and hold the enemy positions south of Moncourt 3000 yards east of the Coincourt (map 29a)(map OHW)Parroy (map 29a)(map OHW) positions then held by the 42d Squadron. This would secure the flank of the 26th Division during the attack. A Squadron plan was devised taking into consideration the following factors:

1. The ground was very muddy, due to month long rains, affecting the use of tanks in close support.
2. Enemy positions were heavily mined. (Witness Bures (map 29a), Parroy and Coincourt in last weeks attack.)
3. Our right flank was partially secured, in that Seventh Army Troops (106th Cavalry) held Mouacourt (map 29a)(map OHW) south of the canal.
4. Strong enemy positions on the dominating heights of Moncourt woods (map OHW) were capable of delivering crippling enfilade fire across the front of the position to be assaulted, and in itself it was a strong position.

Col. Hargis’ staff came up with a simple, effective plan of attack. The 42d Squadron would attack north in a column of Troops from an assembly area south of the Marne au Rhin canal in the vicinity of Mouacourt. This line of action was arrived at after a careful terrain study, and consideration of enemy positions and defense measures. It provided for the concentration of the entire Squadron effort against a single platoon at the only point sheltered by folds in the ground from direct fire of all supporting positions in the enemy Regimental sector (MoncourtXures).

By hitting the enemy flank, the remainder of the enemy line could be pinned down by closely coordinated artillery fire (the whole 26th Division Artillery was available to support the operation) and the assault force could deal successively with single enemy platoon positions.

The decision was made to initiate the assault with a night attack, in order to effect surprise, and since the mud and mines and canal would unduly restrict immediate tank support.

So much for the general plan, which was approved and the attack ordered for the night 19-20 October.

Let’s take a look at the job and method of the leading assault Troop. C Troop was elected for this unenviable task and had engineers and tanks attached. Its mission, phase one of the operation, was the seizure of Jambon woods (map OHW) (Forever after known as “Hambone” to the Second Cavalry). Capt. Harris (still wearing his Lieutenants bar, just so his luck wouldn’t change) elected to attack initially in waves of platoons (the night attack) with emphasis on silence and surprise and bayonets, to secure objective 1 and a bridgehead over the canal, the critical point as it included the southern tip of the Bois de Jambon. Engineer mine sweeping parties were to accompany the assault groups, clear mines, and mark lanes with white tape for the supporting tanks. These routes, designated in advance, led not only to positions to support the attack, but also along the routes of the various counter-attack plans which had been made in anticipation of smashing every attempt by the enemy to retake the position. The canal was to be bridged (a matter of minutes with treadway equipment) in the initial phases of the assault.

When C Troop gained a foothold in the south tip of Bois de Jambon, they were to dig in for the remainder of the night while the mines were swept and tanks brought up. It wasn’t considered wise to advance through the woods after dark.

At dawn Troop C was to jump off and mop up the woods. In event of determined resistance Troop B would be brought up, and the two Troops would attack abreast with a security force digging in on the right flank to contain Kraut forces in Bois de Frederick (map OHW).

Upon clearing Hambone woods (Objective 2) Troop C was to establish a defense position along the east edge of the woods and support by fire the attack of Troop B against the south edge of Bois de Frontiere (map OHW) (Objective 3).

Here again, Troop B was to assault the left extremity of the enemy’s prepared positions while our artillery pounded the remainder of the line. As it was to be a daylight attack, the assault guns were to smoke the south edge of Moncourt woods to blind enemy artillery observers.

The attack was to be made just east of the slight ridge running between Jambon and Frontiere, thereby protecting the attacking groups from direct fire and observation from the enemy Regimental reserve position at Haut de la Crois (map OHW). Since enemy tanks had been reported in Bois de Frontiere, radio communications with our tank destroyers in the orchard above Coincourt was available to Troop B, and a small portion of armor piercing shells by TD’s was included in the artillery preparation in that woods. Another detail of the fire plan was the mixture of shells, including 155’s with instantaneous fuse high explosive for tree bursts, delayed fuse HE for penetration of deep dugouts, and phosphorous for fires and blinding observation.

510 radios were carried and Squadron staff members went along with the attack echelons to further effect coordination, and authorize on-the-spot changes in the execution of the plan as the tactical situation developed.

Troop C patrols on the 19th reported the latest changes in enemy gun positions and booby traps. The harassing artillery fires at irregular intervals that had been fired for the last several days, were continued on the night of the 19th, positions that had been pinpointed receiving maximum attention. No general barrage preceded the night attack in order to retain the element of surprise.

At 0200 advance elements silently crossed the canal and the die was cast.

Vigorous execution of the plan by Capt. Harris’ men overwhelmed the Kraut left flank. Enemy artillery reaction was instantaneous, and the men of C Troop dug in under fire. During the night they hung on grimly to their toe hold in the Hambone woods. Lt. Hueffner’s platoon seemed to receive special attention from the enemy and passed a rough and unpleasant night.

At dawn came our tremendous artillery preparation and the attack progressed according to plan.

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