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A Very Dark Day for Members of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion

A Very Dark Day for Members

of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion.

 Published in the Gravel Agitator,
 the Newsletter of the 27 A.I.B. Association Winter 2007-2008
 With authorization of Mr Robert J. Peterson
 
The situation on 16 December 1944, the Battalion was located in Faymonville, Ligneuville and Schoppen, Belgium.  Company "A" was attached to the 393rd or 394th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division.  Company "B" was attached to the 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division, I am not sure of Company "C" 's mission.  During the afternoon of the 16th we received a "warning order" that a "march order" was pending; all units loaded up and waited.  The march order had "B" Company leading, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, followed by "C" Company we were move south about 1600 hours.  "A" Company was to be detached from the attachment to the 99th Division on the 17th.
 
On the morning of 17 December, elements of Gruppe Peiper (1st SS Panzer Division) entered Ligneuville, Belgium and captured Company "A's" Kitchen crew and its Supply crew.  They were transported to an area south of Stavelot called La Vaulx Richard.  The German commander decided that the men be murdered; so 12 men of Company "A", and three Belgian civilians were executed.  They were S/Sergeant Walter Arter, S/Sgt Edward Kadluboski, T/5 William Edmonds, T/5 Donald Spencer, T/5 Klaas Visser, Pfc Harry Czaplinski, Pfc Carl Millard, Pfc Belen Reyes, Pfc Rolf Runge, Pvt Gion, Pvt David Glotzer and Pvt Donald Hoffer. A monument was established at this site.
 
 Monument at Ligneuville
 
In Ligneuville at the Hotel Du Moulin; during the day 8 men were summarily executed in the garden area of the hotel.  They were S/Sergeant Lincoln Abraham, T/4 Casper Johnson, Pvt Clifford Pitts and Pvt Nick Sullivan all of the 14th Tank Battalion and T/5, Pvt Gerald Carter, and S/Sergeant Joseph Collins, all from Service Company 27th Armored Infantry Battalion and Michael B. Penny of Company "B", 27th Armored Infantry Battalion.
 
The Belgians have erected a monument in town, to memoralize that event. Study Groups in Luxembourg (CEBA): Belgium (CRIBA): Hans Wijers of the Netherlands plus Ardennes re-enactors keep alive the history of these events.  They decorate and commemorate the Battle on 16 December each year.  Flowers and Color guards from many units including U.S. Army are present.
 Monument at La Vaulx Richard
 

Others from Service Company that were killed; but the circumstances are unknown are; 1st Sgt Page Shenk, T/4 Albert Sukstorf, T/5 Harold Holt, and T/5 Paul Toliver.  Captain Seymour Green and thirteen other men from Service Company were taken prisoner and on 20 December were transported to POW Camps in Germany.  The story is told in a Coronet Magazine article (circa 1950)  "The Brave Innkeeper".

 
Pfc Ben Sisk, and Anti-Tank crew-man from Sgt Hunter's squad in "A" Company was wounded and while en-route to the collecting company, the ambulance that he was in was captured by the Germans and he was rerouted to a POW Camp in Germany.
 
At about 1600 hours Captain Wirsig led "B" Company to the south several miles and the column stopped and waited on the road.  I noticed a lot of Buzz Bomb activity and AAA fire in the vicinity of Liege.  I heard some vehicles with steel tracks moving about to our east, and thought that our engineers were doing something.  I know now that they were German Tanks and at an unknown distance from us as sound is difficult to judge in the cold, still air.  Our "initial Point" (IP) was set at 0330 hours, and we were on the move to St Vith, "B" Company in the lead followed by Headquarters Company and then "C" Company.
 
"A" Company was not released from the 99th Division until after a confrontation between Major Devers and Captain Strange and the Regimental Commander of the 393rd or 394th Infantry was settled by the General of the 99th told his commander to release "A" Company.  I understand that our lead halftrack hit the (IP) right at 0330 hours.  I think that "B" Company's Command half track that was leading, took the wrong road and the column was turned around. Lt Thomas Harley, 3rd Platoon took the lead, followed by Lt Peterson, 2nd Platoon and Lt Lawrence Awalt, 1st Platoon.  As we approached Steinebruck Belgium on the Our River, driving in "Blackout" the lead squad of the 2nd platoon slid off the icy road, and was unable to get back on the road.  Lt Peterson jumped out of that half track and got in with the 2nd squad (S/Sgt Law and Sgt Turek); at the bottom of the hill Captain Wirsig, hailed Peterson and told him that "D" Company of 424th Infantry Regiment (106th I.D.) was holding the town of Winterspelt, and that was our objective.  Lt Harvey in the lead half track moved on highway N27 when he got about 1,000 meters he was confronted by dismounted German Soldiers (Mostly Polish conscripts); they overwhelmed Lt Harley and his driver T/5 John Sullivan (wounded in the knee) took them prisoner.  Pfc Albert J. Michaud, Pvt Wayford Moore, Pfc Ray Elliot, Pfc Ray Floyd, Pvt James V Mc Master and Pfc Dominick Castaldo were also captured in that melee.  Sgt Frank Mykalo opened fire on the Germans with his .50 Cal MG and this action broke up the German advance.  The eight men from the 3rd Platoon were marched toward Germany.  Six of these men were taken to Stalag XII-A in Limburg and later to Stalag III-A in Luckenwalde; liberated by the Russians in May of 1945, Lt Harvey lost an eye during a staffing attack by U.S. Air Force on the POW Train.
 
Lt Peterson ordered the platoon to dismount and he set up a scrimmage line on the right hand side of the N27 on the forward slope of Brussel-B Hill.  The vehicles were backing away from the fire fight at the head of the column.  Captain Wirig told Lt Peteron to hold the line, and do not advance.  The 2nd Platoon took up defensive locations along a drainage ditch with the 2nd (S/Sgt Law) Squad on the right and the 3rd Squad (S/Sgt Pencofski) to the left.  The machine gun Squad (S/Sgt Popovich) assigned a machine gun to each of these squads.  The Mortar Squad (S/Sgt Cletus Hart) set up in a covered position.  We began to fire any movement to our front.  The First Platoon (Lt Larry Awalt) took up a position in the woods to the 2nd Platoon's right rear.  The 1st Squad of the 2nd Platoon rejoined the rest of the platoon at about 1000 hours, (their vehicle slide of the road to Steinebruck).
 
"B" Company was set on Brussel-B hill. The third Platoon with T/Sgt John Robitz in command was in reserve.  T/Sgt Charles Ruckhaber and Lt Peterson were in a depression and firing on the Germans with our M-1 rifles, it was aimed fire and we could see and hear some of the results of that fire.  Ruckhaber went back to the Aid Station in Steinebruck and Lt Peterson cautioned men of his 2nd Squad to look far that sniper.  While directing fire from Vitold Urbanowitz's machine gun Sgt Harry Arndt was shot by the sniper and died of his wounds.  At this time the four water cooled machine guns from Headquarters Company were in action.  As S/Sgt Richard Ballou put it we boiled a lot of water that day.  A column of Germans on N27 were taken under fire and were stopped with very heavy casualties.  Pfc Lewis Keeton and Pfc Albert Mincey (1st Squad) were wounded by mortar fire, near the company command post.
 
At about noon Captain Wirsig issued an attack order.  The 16th Field Artillery was now in position to support the attack, and Company "C" was in Lommersweiler and "A" Company was near Maspelt.  We were to take our first objective about 300 yards to the south east.  The axis of advance was highway N-27, "A" Company on the right to take Elcherath, and "C" Company to make a flanking movement left of Company "B".  The attack was to start at 1300 hours with an Artillery time on target (TOT) barrage on the objective.  There was a tank platoon assigned but there was no coordination with Lt Duck of "A" Company 14th Tank Battalion and Captain Wirsig.  Lt Peterson knew nothing of the tanks, he did tell S/Sgt Hart (Mortar Squad) to plot his fire on a gully to our right front and where he suspected the sniper's location.  He was to shoot until he was out of ammunition or if the advancing riflemen were coming too close to the impact zone.  The attack commenced and the First Platoon became pinned down by fire from the right front; S/Sgt John Isaacs, S/Sgt George Stanish and Pvt John Summerfield were killed.  The First Platoon could not get to the woods that Peterson and Awalt discussed prior the attack. Peterson's Platoon was in a false draw on the north side of N-27 and out of sight of the Germans.  About 100 yards out we were coming out of our cover; Wirsig hailed Peterson and asked "Where is the rest of your platoon?"  Peterson hit the ground and replied "If their not behind me, I don't know".
 
Peterson's 3rd Squad (S/Sgt Pencofski) was pinned down at their line of departure, Pfc Vincent Rometo was killed and Pencofski was wounded by small arms fire.  The krauts opened fire on Peterson's platoon, with at least two MG 42's set up in the area of the aforementioned gulley.  Captain Wirsig was hit in the stomach, and tried to sit up, he was told to lay down but he was hit again and killed.  Pfc Robert Walton and Pfc William Csicsek, to Peterson's left were hit.  Pfc Paul Gage (Medical Corps) was coming to the aid of Pfc William Csicsek or Walton and was told to stay back; he ignored the orders by Peterson and he was hit, falling dead on Csicsek.  S/Sgt Albert Melcher, 1st Squad leader was to the right rear of Peterson and he was hit in the stomach and the pain could be seen on his face.  He was told to roll away from the "beaten zone" and he did roll.
 
The platoon stopped; the 2nd Squad and machine gun Squad were still in a cover.  Peterson signalled "Enemy in sight" to the approaching tanks on N-27 he also fired a clip of tracers from his M1 rifle into the suspected area.  The lead tank of Lt Duck's platoon was hit by a panzerfaust.  I am told there was some damage to the final drive.  Peterson knew that forward movement without casualties was now impossible.  The tank came to a stop. Peterson crawled to the cover of the draw and pondered over the situation . He directed Pfc Nick Dello, machine gunner to start shooting short bursts in selected areas where the MG 42's might be.  The platoon was receiving some small high explosive rounds that were all "overs".  He also saw some movement by about six men on his left flank ("C" Company); but could not determine what was going on.  Peterson then ordered T/Sgt Jim Chandler to lead the platoon back to the line of departure.  He then crawled from the covered position he when he noticed that Walton moved.  He then dragged Walton to the cover draw.  He determined that Melcher completely motionless, Gage and Csicsek, were dead by touching their bodies; Wirsig by observation of wounds to his head.  He carried Walton to back to the line of departure.  Walton was sent back to the aid station, and subsequently lost a leg.  Lt Peterson was greeted by Chandler with the commented well "Your IT".  Peterson replied No… Lt Peterson was greeted by Chandler with told to sit tight as a Tank/Infantry attack on Winterspelt was being planned.
 
Company "C" was successful in approaching the objective but came under some severe Mortar Fire.  And with Lt Duck's tanks that also moved up to the objective they took about 100 prisoners of war.  One of Lt Duck's tanks was hit and set on fire by a German anti tank gun.  Killed in action from "C" Company were S/Sgt Michael Paterno, Pvt Dominick Posillipo, Pvt Francis Palesi, Pvt Dorland Smith, from what I could gather 1st Swisher Company "A", did cross the Our river on route to Elcherath.  I did not hear of any fire fights and the casualty list for the day showed Corporal Benney Y Rodriguez becoming Missing in Action.  The author recalls that Lt Swisher was never told to withdraw from the east shore of the Our River.  Headquarters Company's Mortar Platoon Sergeant T/Sgt Raymond Page and Battalion S-3 Major Donald Russell were wounded by artillery fire on the bridge in Steinebruck.
 
The attack plan was that a coordinated tank infantry force would move on Winterspelt.  I was given this order and started to organize what was left my platoon and to inform T/Sgt Robitz and T/Sgt Howe (1st Platoon) what we would do next.  The Commanding General MG Jones of the 106th Infantry Division told Brigadier General Hoge that he could continue the attack on Winterspelt but would have to bring all forces in his command to the west side of the Our River line at midnight 17 December.  There is rumor that Hoge had socked Jones and I suppose this might have at least put the thought in Hoge's mind.  General Jones, later was relived due to illness.  The organization of troops in the St-Vith area were worked out by General Bruce Clark and General William Hoge.  General Hoge cancelled the attack on Winterspelt refusing to use up men and equipment only to cede the territory taken back to the Germans.  Had we taken Winterspelt it might have opened a path for the withdrawal of the 423rd Infantry.
 

At a reunion Jack Tuerk and Bob Peterson had a conversation about his day.  Jack told Pete that if the decision to continue the attack from that draw was made; that he might not have participate in it.  Pete though about following orders and knew that his group did not have any chance to make it those next 150 meters.  An assault of say 25 meters is in the zone of consideration, any distance over that is close to committing suicide.

 
1st Lt Robert J PETERSON

2nd Platoon,

"B" Company

27th Armored Infantry Battalion

9th Armored Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium