(My recollection of our run from the Seine to the German
August 28 - October 8, 1944
Our run across Northern France, Belgium and into Southern Holland was unique in the annals of military warfare. The 113th Cavalry had been ordered to move with all possible speed to reach the German border. Attached to the Cavalry Group, our orders were to support the XIX Corps’s mission of pursuing German Troops across Northern France, Belgium, and into Southern Holland. Our objective was the German border!
From U.S. Army Center of Military
History's report on the Northern France Campaign!
"For the U.S. Army, the campaign represented one of its most memorable moments during World War II.
The pursuit across France showed the Army at its slashing, driving best, using its mobility to the fullest
to encircle German formations and precluding any German defensive stand short of their own frontier.
American troops would long cherish memories of triumphant passages through towns, basking in the
cheers of a grateful, adoring populace".
August 26th, 1944, the 82nd Engineer Combat Battalion came
within sight of the Seine River near the village of Breval
France. Two days later Company B was separated from the battalion and
attached to the 113th Cavalry Group.The
113th, for this mission, was expanded to include medium tanks, motorized infantry and Combat Engineers.
While not generally known to us at the time, General Eisenhower had planned to hold his lines at the Seine River and await a build up of supplies.The Allies invasion plan had envisioned one or more of the Normandy ports to be in operation by this time, but extensive damage made most facilities useless.To supply front line troops the army had created the “Red Ball Express, consisting of never ending truck convoys running from the beach area with critical supplies. With an ever widening front, as we reached the Seine River, It was apparent that the Red Ball system was inadequate to supply attacking forces. Convoys alone, were consuming considerable gasoline and attacking tank columns required thousands of gallons of fuel every day.
After destruction of it’s forces, east of the City of Vire by the pincer movement of British/Canadian troops attacking south and American troop attacking northward, the German army was retreating rapidly.General Eisenhower decided to maintain the pressure and force the enemy back to their home- land. Although supplies were inadequate for large scale movement, the XIX Corps was ordered to con- tinue the pursuit. Available supplies of gasoline were allocated to the Cavalry, with instructions to screen the right flank of the Corps and reach the German border with all possible speed. The 82nd’s Company B was attached in support of the Cavalry in this mission.
On August 30, 1944 the 113th Cavalry Group, with B Company of the 82nd and other support units, attached, crossed the Seine River over a partially damaged bridge, at the village of at Le Pecq and into the Commune of Le Vesinet on the far side.These two communities are part of the greater Paris region,
about 12 miles from the city’s center. Earlier that same morning, the 246th Combat Engineers had laid a section of Bailey Bridge sliding it over the damaged section of the bridge.
We were the first troops to cross the Seine at this point and as we touched down on the far side we were met by a thousand or so screaming and cheering civilians, including many wearing FFI (French Forces of the Interior) armbands. I vividly remember one very tall man with a typical French tam on his head shouting in perfect American profanity how glad they were to see us! Not expecting a reception in English, I talked briefly with the man. Seems that he was in WW1, married a French girl, and never returned home. He further told us that the Germans had left just before we arrived and were using bicycles, horses and anything that would move to get out of town! I also remember some of the FFI members begging us for guns and ammunition so they could conduct their own war on the Germans. We had no choice but to refuse their requests.
Upon arrival in Le Visnet we learned that our first platoon would be held in reserve with other Cavalry units for about 48 hours. Our disappointment at reserve status was tempered a bit, since we could mix freely with the civilians, especially the bevy of pretty girls that came to visit. Soon after our arrival another GI and I encountered several men wearing FFI armbands. They ask if we would be their guests that night at a liberation party, to be held at a nearby community center. After checking to make sure we would not be moving that evening we accepted. When we entered the party room it was evident that we would be the only soldiers there....we were representing the entire United State Military. This is one party I will never forget! Food, wine, music and an endless series of toasts to us, their liberators. It was gratifying to realize that we had such a major role in restoring a life and a future for the French people.
Upon leaving LeVesinet, our convey moved northward, along roads just east of the City of Paris,and crossed the Oise River on September 1st. Our convoy was fired on at the village of Boursies the next day. A German rear guard unit of 200 men, 2 machine guns and 2-88 guns got off just two rounds before being overrun. Once on the east side of the Oise we moved rapidly, crossing the Somme River on the 3rd. On the same day other units crossed the border into Belgium before halting at a point 20 miles northeast of City of Tournai. Along the way several enemy forces were encountered and defeated, netting over 100 prisoners. I recall one instance when a farmer told us about some Germans hiding in the nearby woods. After a few warning shots, one of our men who spoke a little German, was successful in getting them to surrender. We disarmed them and headed back down the road. where the M.P's would find them sooner or later.
On September 4th we began a drive that would take us over 125 miles to the banks of the Albert Canal. We were leading the Second Armored Division by 3 days. The Armor played leap-frog as gasoline was allocated by unit. The 30th Division was on the march day and night, mostly on foot. In the meantime we were rolling across Belgium. We would travel on a paved road for a while, then, to by-pass road blocks, off a cross country jaunt over dirt farm roads. We repeated this procedure many times over the next 3 days. I remember marveling at the map reader who was leading our convoy. By-passed German defenses were referred to the trailing Armor for elimination. While we didn’t realize it at the time, communications were being maintained by aircraft because of the distance from command centers. This tactical pursuit would go down in military history as one of the army’s most dramatic and successful missions.
Although we bypassed major points of resistance, our battalion engange the enemy on several occasions. On September 5th near the village of Wavre Belgium, a Company B patrol, while setting up a road block for the cavalry, came under attack. Several vehicles were knocked out and one man was killed. By September 9th we were near the banks of the Albert Canal. Our run across northern France and eastward across Belgium had taken just 10 days. Also on the 9th, a recon. patrol from our 3rd platoon, seeking a site to bridge the canal, was ambushed by a German rear guard. One man was killed, another wounded and three taken prisoner.
With all bridges out in th XIX Corps sector, forces of the 113th were split ,with one unit moving north to cross the canal in the British sector while our convoy moved south to cross the Muese River/Albert Canal over a still standing bridge at the city of Leige, in the VII Corps area. This happened on the morning of September 11th. Proceeding through Leige was a memorable experience. Thousands of cheering, screaming people lined the streets as we passed through. Riding in the passenger side of my squad truck, I reached out to touch the out stretched hands. The best we could do was to slap hands as we passed. I touched thousands of hands that day. My squad riding in the back of the truck, came under fire from a barrage of flowers, fruit and bottles of wine. An unforgettable experience! Once across the bridge our convoy turned north to attack the enemy in Southern Holland. Several enemy contacts were made but were quickly extinguished by the motorized Infantry attached to the 113th.
The next day, September 12, 1944, we moved into our first bivouac in Holland near the village of Hoogurets. The cavalry’s two squadrons, with 82nd units attached, fanned out across Dutch villages in Southern Holland. The enemy was engaged at Berg, Gulpen, Papenhoven, Rosstern, Illkhaven and in the City of Masstricht. While no one from the 82nd was killed, quite a few men suffered wounds during these attacks.
Meanwhile, on September 13th, still on the west bank of the Albert Canal, A& C Companies began construction of a 140 foot Bailey Bridge to propel the 2nd Armored Division toward the German border. With the armor backed up at the Canal site, as the nose cone touched down on the far shore, the bridge collapsed, evidently from a damaged section. Working around the clock, the battalion retrieved, recon- structed and relaunched the bridge within 48 hours. (see the XIX Corps)
By the end of September, most of our XIX Corps sector was free of German troops. In just 30 days We had advanced from the Seine River near Paris, across three countries and we were now sitting on the German border. The German Army in this sector virtually collapsed from the overwhelming speed and tacticts employed the Allied command. With pursuit phase of our mission complete, the next phase would be to engage the enemy in his own homeland.
|Crossing the Border
On September 30 we were ordered to cross the German Border for the first time. We assembled at the Dutch City of Sittard on the morning of October 1st and moved across the border near the Germman city of Tuddern. I recall, clearly, arriving at the 113th assembly area. We arrived on a narrow road approaching a stream which extended under a bridge a few hundred yards ahead. To the right of the road the 113th had deployed tanks facing across the creek. To the left of the road was a large partially damaged barn which became B Company’s command post.
The mission, as explained to us; The Cavalry was to attack three small towns. The 82nd was to secure the bridge prior to the attack then to clean out and secure the three towns, once captured. The mission was to commence at nine hundred hours the next morning. The attack would be led by units of the attached 744th Tank Battalion. The plan was to capture the first village by 10 o’clock, the second by 11 a.m. and the third by noon. All three were to be secure by mid afternoon. The plan was simple and straight forward but as military operation usually go, plagued by problems. The enemy lobbed mortars and artillery in spurts over the several days of our mission.
We set up our 30 and 50 caliber guns along the right side of the road about about 150 feet from the bridge. Orders were to fire at any movement on the bridge. Sometime in late afternoon, I remember a Captain, commanding officer of the tank unit , coming into our command center to talk with our C.O. Our platoon leader, a second lieutenant was not available. I recalled that I had seen our officer in a bunker, evidently an abandon vegetable cellar of a partially demolished building, about 200 feet from the barn. I volunteered to find the officer and bring him to the tank unit commander. I had to run across the length of a plowed field and as I did mortars were landing in the field. I had the uncanny feeling that an artillery spotter was watching me as I ran.
I found the officer in the bunker and conveyed the urgency of a meeting with the tank commander. Instead of coming out of this hole in the ground, our platoon leader kept telling me to get into the bunker with him. After a couple of minutes it was obvious that he was one frightened man After several minutes, and in spite of his urging for me to join him, I told him I had to get back and report. He then countered with “I’ll be along in a few minutes” I ran back across that plowed field and breathed a sigh of relief when I made it to the barn in one piece. I reported my conversation the Captain but he said” I can’t wait”. As he left he spoke to all of us in the command area saying “ Do not allow anyone across that creek.......give this message to your CO
Shortly after dark, as I was talking with members of my squad about guard duty that night, I heard our platoon leaders voice calling me. He had evidently waited for darkness to come out of his bunker. His first words were,”I want an outpost on the other side of the stream to alert us of enemy activity”. Several of us explained that we were under orders not to place anyone on the other side. We were surprised when the CO ignored our comments and repeated his order. I recall protesting and reminding the lieutenant that orders were to shoot any movement on or near the bridge. He repeated his order in a loud voice said “ I’m in charge here and I am ordering an outpost across that creek. Do You understand” I recall asking him one more time to talk with the tank commander before he made a decision. “ His reply was” Sergeant, I just issued an order”!
Realizing my dilemma, I turned to Corporal Joe Di Cicco and I ask if he thought we could obey the C.O.’s order without putting our men at risk. We went outside and quietly slid along the wall of the barn to the waters edge. Across the stream was a grove of trees. Joe felt that he could wade across the stream and take up position behind the trees. I ask Joe to take two men with him. I then reminded Joe that if they spotted any activity to wade back across the creek and under no circumstances to cross on the bridge.
I then sat, leaning up against a tree near the barn. I recall thinking that we had all the bases covered. Our guns were in position and we had a clear path for the outpost to return across the creek . I also remember wondering how should handle the situation with our platoon leader. If I reported his actions to higher command I wasn’t sure if they would accept the fact that we had one scared officer on our hands. I remember thinking, let’s just get through this mission and then I’ll worry about this guy. I dozed off for an hour or so when I was startled by the chatter of a machine gun. As I came running around the corner of the Barn I saw the last of the tracer bullets firing across the bridge and two figures laying on the ground.
By the time I reached the bridge, I realized we had shot two of our own men. I was livid! As the two men were being lifted onto litters Joe came up behind me. His first words were “Eddie I tried to stop them. We saw a German patrol coming toward us. My two guys panicked and ran toward the bridge I tried to stop them”. Joe had followed orders and safely waded across the creek. Moments later our platoon leader appeared. I could see the shock in his face but I was so mad I told him off. I don’t remember my exact words but I made it clear to all listening, that he sent these men across that creek, refused to meet with the tank commander and was responsible for this tragedy! Although we were not sure at the time, our guys did survive, but their war was over. A couple of days later this officer was relieved as our platoon leader and assigned to another unit. A month later he was killed by an exploding mine.
The next morning on schedule the Sherman’s, with infantrymen riding atop, began the attack with a half dozen tanks heading up the road firing. As we stood by our vehicles waiting for orders to move up, we could hear heavy firing as the tanks neared the first village. About an hour later, one of the tanks carrying several wounded men atop, came back down the road . Soon, several more tanks with casualties were retreating past us. It was now apparent that the attack was running into very heavy fire from German 88 mm guns. The enemy had lowered their guns and were firing point blank into the tanks. After several more attempts, the attack was halted. We later learned that the 300 Germans, reportedly holding these towns, was closer to 3000 and they were not going to be taken by lightly armored Cavalry. The next day we were informed that the Cavalry's mission was to be turned over to the heavy armor.
A few few days later, on October 8th 1944, Company B was relieved of attachment to the 113th Cavalry Group and rejoined the full battalion at the Dutch city of Aableek. We had been detached for 41 days. Our run across three countries was costly. Four men had been killed, 19 wounded, two missing in action, (bodies of these MIA were found in 1947 by local German citizens). 3 men were taken prisoner.
Four days later, on October 12th, we, again, crossed into Germany near the village of Sherpenseel. As the Germans fell back into their homeland there was a general feeling that we might be home by Christmas. Little did we realize that it would take 7 more months to force a German surrender! For now, however, we could bask in our success in ending the enemy’s occupation of France, Belgium and Holland. This is the way I remember it.......It was one hell of a ride!
Ed. Husted, 82nd historian
(Sergeant 1st Squad, 1st Platoon, Co. B
82nd Engineer Combat Battalion)