Tank Trap

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

WWIIA.L. Wessling, 2d Lt., E Troop, 42nd Squadron

17-18 September 1944

On the afternoon of the 17th of September I had returned with my platoon to the Squadron bivouac area, from a road block we had established with a section of Lt. Lindoerfer’s platoon on the road to Baccarat (map 25)(map NS), just a mile or so below Chenevieres (map 25). While the block was in operation a Frenchman told us that there were six German tanks in Baccarat. We reported this and promptly forgot it. That evening we went to Luneville (map IV)(map 25)(map NS) for a badly needed shower and change of clothes. On the evening of the 18th, Capt. Welsh, the Troop CO, was called to Squadron Headquarters at 8 o’clock. Upon his return he told us that there were six German tanks reported coming up the road from Baccarat and that we were to go out and lay for them.

As we pulled into position about 900 yards from the highway I noticed a French wagon, loaded with hay, standing on the road to our direct front. I was standing on the ground beside one of my guns observing in the direction of Chenevieres when one of our armored cars came up the road and passed our front heading to Luneville. I thought then that we were all ahead of time, until a jeep came zooming up the road with the driver screaming at the top of his voice, “fire, fire!” I took a quick look around but could not see anything to fire at. A moment later a civilian came out and started to lead away the horse and wagon, which had remained stationary all this time. The hay wagon had moved only it’s own length when I saw that three Tiger tanks had been sitting behind it all this time. They had backed off the highway into the ditch so that only their turrets and guns were visible to me. I thought afterwards that if I had only known this I would have put a round of smoke into the hay, thus setting it on fire and giving us a little time, for what I still can’t imagine. I had two assault guns, 75mm howitzers with a 53 inch tube and a muzzle velocity of 1900 feet per second, and that definitely is not the type of weapon for a successful tank duel. At that time the Tiger guns looked a mile long and I remember thinking to myself as I watched one of the Tigers bring its gun to bear on my gun, “Wessling, somebody is going to win this fight and it won’t be you!”

I gave the gun chief the fire order, with range 1000 yards. He said, “but I’ve already told the gunner 800”. So I told him to fire anyway and get one out there to adjust on. Just as his gun went off, I saw the muzzle smoke from the Tiger and I started to drop to the ground beside my gun. I had been standing upright in the open field observing through my glasses. As I got halfway down there was a blinding flash and a terrific explosion and I was knocked down the rest of the distance I had yet to go to the ground. The Tiger’s first round had hit ten yards in front of me, just a little to the right of my gun, putting 14 holes of various sizes and shapes in me. I ran about ten yards to the edge of the woods where Capt. Welsh was crouched down to have him tie my handkerchief around my right wrist, which had been punctured by a piece of shrapnel and was bleeding badly.

I then told my halftrack driver to get the halftrack, which had been backed into the woods, out of there and told my guns to go to the other side of the dirt road to our right and continue firing from the better cover there. One never got there as his track was blown off. I then ran about a hundred yards through the woods to the dirt road where Capt. Welsh, Capt. Harris and Major Potts were standing. I said to Welsh, “What do we do now?” and he said, “You’re not going to do anything, you’re going to the medics.” I said I wouldn’t go and about that time he and the 1st Sergeant threw me in a bantam and the sergeant drove me off to the medics, who were further back in the woods. I remember seeing C Troop lined up on the dirt road in their vehicles facing me as I rode out. At the crossroads I saw Major Pitman for the last time. He was standing beside the road and asked me what was going on down there.

What happened after that I got from Capt. Welsh. I had fired the first shot that day about 0830 and it was after five when the rest of the Troop got back to the other side of Luneville. We lost four of our six guns, and three halftracks. Two men in the Troop were killed. Cpl. Campbell from Idaho, a gunner in the 1st Platoon, was killed when an 88 pierced the front of his gun, and Pvt. Calderone from New York, Brooklyn I believe, was hit in the heart as he was running down the road. One man besides myself was wounded, Sgt. Tillotson from Idaho, who was a crew chief in the 1st Platoon, was wounded above his right eye when a shell glanced off of the turret shield, taking the .50 caliber AA gun, mount and all, on its way by. We had miraculously few casualties considering the fact that not only were the Germans pouring everything they had on us, but also our own artillery was dumping big stuff in the area.

It took E Troop about three months to recover from that days work. At least it was that long before we got all our equipment replaced. The men whose vehicles were demolished lost everything they owned. I was more angry at the Germans because they had filled my clean clothes full of holes and blood and got all my equipment, then I was because they had shot me up.

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