Delaying Action

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

WWIIT/4 Frank Geronimo, F Troop, 42d Squadron

17 – 23 September 1944

The evening of the 17th, after we were settled in our own bivouac area, we went into Luneville (map IV)(map 25)(map NS) to take showers. On our way back we could here artillery falling but we didn’t pay much attention to it, as we thought it was probably our own. That night some shells fell near our area but we didn’t worry much as we figured it might be our assault guns. The next morning as we were finishing up our maintenance, orders were received for a platoon of tanks to support a recon troop who had contacted the enemy in a big way. We were informed that some of our patrols had run smack into Tiger tanks very close to our bivouac area.

The 3rd Platoon, Sam Fowler’s, went into position covering a road along which the enemy had been reported to be moving. We didn’t know much about the situation as there had been no time for orientation. From what we could gather we were pickled in, as patrols reported enemy near our positions on all sides. Luneville was reported to be open, but the road leading to it was well covered by enemy fire. The 1st and 2d Platoons were called out to cover other avenues of approach along which the enemy would surely come. The 1st Platoon, led by Lt. Ransom, was sent to secure the bridge and crossroads leading into Luneville, one section on the crossroads and the other section on the bridge. Supply trains went out through the escape route to Luneville and the 42d Squadron Headquarters and medics followed later. We were told that the 42d had to hold at all costs!

We were receiving frequent and accurate artillery fire as the enemy already had the road zeroed in. Luckily a house on our right was screening us from the direct view of the Germans, although they probably knew exactly where we were. Three of the tankers took advantage of our slightly sheltered situation to dismount and clean some of muddy France from the boggie wheels and suspension systems.

Soon after we were settled in position we heard the rumble of vehicles approaching us from the rear. It was Group Headquarters, 2d Squadron and A Troop of the 42d in a column of twos heading for Luneville, and wasting no time. The enemy opened up on us in earnest with artillery, mortar and antitank fire. The men in the column would leave their vehicles when a flock of shells came whistling in, then jump up and chase their vehicles down the road after the shells had landed. One joker, apparently a cook, had lost his helmet and was holding a sauce pan over his head. C Troop of the 2d came along, high-tailing down the only unobstructed road to safety, shedding much cold sweat and stepping heavily on the gas pedal. The drivers were all buttoned up as artillery was coming in from their right, blasting the roadside ditches, the road itself, and in Luneville, the buildings. The dust of shells and the collapsing buildings decreased the already poor visibility. The Jerries must have thought they were going to have a field day.

We pulled back over the bridge into the edge of the woods in order to escape some of the intense fire that was being directed at us. We heard, over our radios, that E Troop had lost three assault guns, which were in another section of the woods with the 3rd Platoon of F Company. They had set a trap for the Tiger tanks, but the trap backfired as our light guns didn’t seem to damage the enemy armor.

From the woods to our rear came the crews of the tanks of the 3rd Platoon (all tanks were lost), three assault guns that were still running, and the survivors of the crews of the guns that were knocked out. With them came some armored cars and bantams loaded with recon men who had lost their vehicles.

The four tanks of the 3rd Platoon, that had been with the assault guns, were completely bogged down during the action and could not be retrieved. The headquarters tank that had gone along, dismounted it’s crew and was attempting to hook onto one of the stuck tanks when their gunner had his leg sheared off by the first round fired at them. The second round broke the track of the headquarters tank. The tank commander picked up the gunner and ran over a hundred yards to put him in a bantam. He almost collapsed from the run and the sight of the man’s mangled leg.

Soon the 2d Platoon appeared with more reconnaissance men and Capt. Potts, who took over when word reached us that our Squadron Commander had been killed and our Group Commander wounded. His first words were, “who said it isn’t rough in the E.T.O.?” His coolness raised our morale considerably.

We heard that CCR of the 4th Armored had moved into Luneville and that we were beginning to receive their artillery support. (As matter of fact, a Battalion of 8 inch Howitzers had begun firing on Tiger tank positions in Marainviller (map 25), which made the following described escape possible.) Capt. Potts began to issue us orders. He told us we had to make a break for it, two vehicles at a time, to Luneville, which was our only route of escape even though it was well covered by enemy fire.

The vehicles started to leave with the dismounted men, who had lost theirs, clinging to the sides. Two bantams left first and a minute or two later two armored cars. Two tanks and two assault guns followed at short intervals. As the first vehicles hit the main road everyone grew tense as we watched them speed away toward safety. The tenth or eleventh vehicle to leave began to receive fire from enemy machine gun positions on both sides of the road on the far side of the bridge. The bridge, which we had to cross to get on the main road, was a high arched affair over the railroad and a beautiful target for the enemy tanks in position in Marainviller. Our vehicle was the seventh from the last to leave. With us there was another tank, a couple of bantams and armored cars. The two tanks preceded the armored cars and bantams in order to pin down the enemy machine guns along the way.

As we hit the main road a round of AT just missed the lead tank. The dash into Luneville seemed to be made at a slow crawl, as we all sat in our vehicles with cold spots between our shoulder blades waiting for the next round to hit. Our driver had the gas pedal to the floor and although the speedometer registered 40 we still urged him on. When we skidded around the turn into Luneville we saw a TD with it’s 76 pointed square at us, and Sherman tanks had their gun barrels poked through every crevice and nook between buildings. They sure were a sight for sore eyes. As enemy artillery was falling heavily in Luneville we continued right on through and bivouaced near the 4th Armored’s supporting artillery batteries. We were pretty well keyed up from the days events.

Next morning we heard the 4th Armored was engaging the 11th Panzer in heavy tank battles.

When the German columns first started rolling toward Luneville, B Troop, 42nd Squadron sent Sgt. James Hart with his section of the 1st Platoon to secure the bridge over the Meurthe river (map 25). This was the bridge that had been built by the cooks and was an important defile on our supply route. Sgt. Hart occupied the high ground on the west side of the river near the bridge and placed his weapons in the edge of a wood so that they were trained on the bridge and the approaches from the east.

It wasn’t long after he had taken position before the German armored column came streaming up the main road from the south heading toward Luneville. Sgt. Hart was literally on the reviewing stand watching nearly a thousand German vehicles pass before him. For awhile it seemed that the whole battle was to pass him by and leave him in peace.

But wait! The Germans were advancing in more than one column, and soon the enemy was passing through the woods behind his section. His guns opened up on groups of Panzergrenadiers who suddenly came into view 100 feet away in the wooded lanes surrounding his position. He killed several, but they didn’t seem to pay attention to him except to fire an occasional return shot as they continued on their headlong rush toward Luneville. Men and tanks kept pushing by completely scornful of the fire of Hart’s men. Eventually, however, a tank rumbled around the bend of a wooded lane which led directly to the armored car. Gunner T/5 Eugene Smith feverishly cranked the turret of the armored car through 180 degrees to lay on his new threat. The men were frantic now and fighting for dear life. Smith pumped 13 rounds of 37mm at the tank and watched the shells bounce like peas off of a tin pot. The 88 was slowly swinging around to liquidate this impudent American when a lucky round killed the tank commander, who was evidently the gunner too, as the tank was unable to train it’s big gun on the armored car to fire. At least the turret ceased turning and the tank backed away and pulled out of sight down the road.

The section was completely cut off from the rest of the Squadron, so they stayed in the woods and waited for nightfall. Eventually the German horde thundered on past towards Luneville and the section contacted the 106th Cavalry Group to the west. Four days later they were able to rejoin their Troop.

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