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
26-28 August 1944
A breathless FFI chief pounded into the Second Cavalry CP at Chessy (map 20) late in the afternoon of 26 August. “Who speaks French?” he asked excitedly.
Major Pitman, Exec of the 42d Squadron, who was visiting from his CP in an adjoining field, came forward to learn the man’s story.
“Between Tonnerre (map III)(map 20) and Chablis (map III)(map 20) the FFI are holding off a German convoy, but their situation is desperate for they are beginning to run out of ammunition. Besides, south of Chablis another German column has crossed their lines and is about to effect a junction with the first column.
The Major made him pin point the column on the map and promised him that everything would be done that was necessary.
A short time later 1st Sgt. George of B, 42d, roared into the Squadron CP and deposited T/Sgt. Jack Gold at the medics. He had trouble!
Sgt. George with Maintenance Sgt. Gold and Mess Sgt. Barnes had been on their way with rations and gas to the B Troop CP just above Chablis. They had reached a point just south of Carisey (map 20) when a Kraut 75mm field piece opened up on them at point blank range. Barnes and Gold in the point bantam jerked off the road and started out cross country at a high gallop. It was rough riding and Gold, a very short chap, jumped out to blaze a trail through the shoulder high grass and weeds. The next round cracked in closer. The jeep jumped forward and proceeded to bounce over Gold. Gold took time out to check himself over to see if he had been killed in the wreck. Barnes gave up in disgust and hit for the tall timber. He was never seen again. (Eds. note: In December word was officially received that Sgt. Barnes was a German prisoner.)
Sgts. George and Gold managed to squeeze out as the dismounted Krauts closed in. Their last view of the supply halftrack was a towering cloud of black smoke as the Kraut gun scored one.
George estimated that it was at least a Regiment of horse artillery going into bivouac in plain view from where the German outpost tagged him. He pointed out the position on the S-3 map, just southeast of Foret de Pontigny (map 20) where B of the 2d had a scrap with an estimated 2000 Germans the day before, and since it was known that the 16th German Infantry Division was infiltrating east from Orleans (map II), we believed we had something.
42d Squadron was alerted to make the attack with everything they had available. Col. Reed directed Col. Hill to hit the enemy encampment from the north and east, and called on 2d Squadron to send Troop B, then concentrated near Flogny, south toward Tonnerre to cut off the enemy from the west.
Troop A 42d, having been relieved by Troop C on the Tonnerre – les Riceys (map III) screen, was in reserve at Chessy at 1500 and immediately mounted up and headed south. Col. Hill followed with E and F Troops. Major Pitman was dispatched to Ligny le Chatel (map III)(map 20) where Lt. Mitchell’s platoon of B Troop was to meet him.
In the meantime Col. Reed received word that the 4th Armored would send an armored task force to help with the Kraut horse artillery Regiment, and maybe cut up the German 16th Infantry Division, if it was there.
At Varennes (map 20) it was learned that the German force pulled south after the engagement with Sgt. George’s supply halftrack. They were afraid American “Panzers” were nearby.
Troop A passed south through Mere (map 20), traveling cross country to Vezannes (map 20) which lay at the bottom of a little valley. There the French said that the German horse column had just passed through town. As we cleared the town on the road to Tissey (map 20), we saw Krauts running into the woods on our left front and we came under long range small arms fire. Our platoons fanned out to the left of the road firing 37’s and machine guns. We hadn’t advanced 500 yards when our 75’s from E Troop began pounding the woods and cross roads in front of Hill 277 (map 20). Their fire was coming in hot and heavy and we couldn’t push forward without running into it.
Lt. Wessling’s platoon of assault guns at the head of E Troop had gone into position on the high ground just east of Dye (map 20) where they had a clear view of the whole Kraut column, horses, artillery and men, as it streamed along the road in front of Hill 277, headed toward Vezinnes (map 20). Soon the six guns were up abreast, and cut loose a steady volley at the Krauts. Although the enemy could be seen from the guns, each crew fired indirect laying since the range was so long. A deadly fire raked the whole column, following it right into Vezinnes.
This had one bad effect, however. Col. Reed, heading the tank platoon and B of the 2d, which was pushing south from Flogny, was prevented by the fire from entering Vezinnes and cutting off the column. Further, since the 2d Squadron was on a different radio channel than the 42d, Col. Hill at the E Troop position couldn’t be notified to stop his fire. Troop A finally managed to call E and tell them to shift their fire to the east so they could close with the enemy, but by the time this was done, darkness had closed in, and the enemy, less the dead horses, men, and abandoned guns strewn along the road, had escaped across the bridge at Vezinnes.
As Felix Mazure, the French volunteer serving with A Troop put it, the fighting was confused (which was typical of green troops). He stated, “near the village of Mere our platoon left the rest of the Troop and headed along a dirt road to the wood, which dominated the village of Vezannes. We had to get there to cover the right flank of A Troop which was fanning out in the valley going cross country. The Boche weren’t far away.”
“Wenzel was driving our bucking jeep along, gas pedal to the floor. We checked the woods and as we came out above Vezannes all hell broke loose. Bullets whistled about our ears, and added to the din of A Troop’s machine guns and 37’s were the heavier explosions of the 75mm shells of our assault guns which were hitting scarcely 200 or 300 meters in front of A Troop as we advanced up the hill toward the Boche.”
“The fight lasted nearly an hour then quit. While the bullets and shells were falling quite near us, I watched my companions. All were perfectly calm. That’s about all that I saw during the battle – except the riderless fear-crazed horses of the German convoy racing across the fields.”
“The ‘buck private’ usually sees only the shell bursts, hears the zinging bullets; he advances, goes this way or that and sees his comrades wounded or killed.”
“It remains for the leaders, the high leaders only, to have precise knowledge of the battle; for they follow it on their maps.”
“Like everything else, there are on the one side those who see a little and know nothing, and on the other those who know, but see nothing.”
Capt. John Watson of the 42d Tank Troop cussed for two days about our inability to get the tanks across country in mass and hit the column on the flank before darkness set in.
And he wasn’t the only one! At about 2300 the medium tanks of the 4th Armored, that were going to help us, came rolling south to Tonnerre and further delayed our reorganization. Anyone who has had to pull over to the side of the road while a column of medium tanks barrel by blackout will get the idea. It was well after midnight before we were completely organized.
At first the 42d was relieved by the 2d, which merely extended it’s screen. The 42d concentrated in the vicinity of Chaource (map III)(map 21).
By noon of the 27th Troops A and C of the 42d had seized a bridgehead over the Seine river extending from Clerey (map 21) to Villemoyen (map 21) and pushed rapidly to the east below Troyes (map III). Troop A made good progress, reaching Arcis (map III) and Pougy (map III) on the following day.
To the south in the C Troop sector things were rough. Before Vendeuvre (map III) one platoon ran into elements of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which was concentrating in the Foret de Grand Orient. The platoon was driven back to Lusigny (map III). Here Fred Siple was killed trying to stop German armor with a tommy gun! At the latter town a platoon of Engineers said they were ordered to blow the bridge over the Aube river beyond Vendeuvre.
Lt. Charles Harris explained the difficulties his 1st Platoon had just run into, but our entreaties not withstanding, the engineers, loaded in trucks, went through our outpost. About 35 seconds later several burp guns and 20mm’s cut loose. They were soon joined by a German machine gun with it’s distinctive high cyclic rate of fire. Then all was silent. As far as we were able to learn not a man escaped. There were logs along both sides of the road so a vehicle couldn’t turn around.
The 2d Platoon of C Troop got so far behind the German lines that they found themselves cut off and had a wild ride before they managed to return to our lines.