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US Army

Defense of Marche's area

 

 Defense of Marche's area

 

Statement by Lieutenant Leonard R. CARPENTER

On the counter-Reconnaissance Screen, 23-24 December 1944

to T/5 Jack SHANK

Historical Section 84th Infantry Division.

 
On the night of 22 December 1944 at 1930 hours, Major Gordon A Bahe, Battalion Commander, 3rd Battalion, 335th Infantry called 1st Lieutenant Leonard R. Carpenter, commanding Company "K", and instructed him to proceed with his company and one platoon of Tank Destroyers, a platoon of Engineers, one 57mm Anti-Tank gun, a section of heavy machine guns, to the town of Tellin and Grupont, mine the bridge at the latter town and establish road blocks at both village.  The company was at this time located in the village of Waillet northwest of Marche.  Nothing was known either of the enemy or friendly situation in that vicinity, except that company 'I', 335th Infantry was in the town of Rochefort, on a like mission.
 
The convoy did not get started until midnight.The company traveled in open two and one-half ton trucks, led by the Battalion S-2.  Roads were icy and one tank destroyer, of five, slipped off the road bed and was abandoned enroute to Rochefort.  Between the hours of 0400 anf 0500 hours, 23 December 1944, Lieutenant Carpenter's command arrived in the village of Rochefort, Belgium.  Engineers had already demolished the bridge on the main road Rochefort-Grupont, three hours were lost finding another route.  Finally the group arrived at Wavreille (K2271).  In the village, it was learned from citizens that six German tanks had been seen between Wavreille and Grupont.  Instead of branching off in several smaller units, as had been originally planned, it was decided that the whole force would be taken to Tellin (K2067) and then Grupont. (K2468).
 
Upon arrival at Tellin the convoy left the third and fourth platoons of Company "K", one tank destroyer and proceeded toward Grupont.  On the eastern outskirts of Bure (k2368) the lead jeep in the convoy was fired upon.  The column stopped.Lieutenant Carpenter talked to a civilian in the vicinity and was informed that there were nine Germans and one halftrack in the town of Grupont.  The civilian further volunteered to lead the Americans to the village by a route which would enable them to ambush the enemy.  The 1st Platoon under the command of 2nd Lieutenant George Prewitt went after the Germans.  About half an hour after the platoon had left small arms fire was heard coming from the direction of the town.
 
In the meantime, Lieutenant Carpenter set up a Command Post in the village de Bure, occupying a stone house which overlooked Grupont.  The two remaining platoons occupied buildings behind the house.
 
A German tank came into Bure from Grupont and fired point blank at the CP.  Someone, gave the order to disperse and the two platoons, plus the attached units, made their way back to Tellin.  Lieutenant Carpenter was left alone in the house.  Two other tanks came up behind the first and the occupants dismounted and began to search the house.  The lieutenant hid himself in a potato bin in the cellar and was not discovered.  Late in the afternoon, after the Germans had gone, he opened up his SCR 300 radio and learned the location of his company.  With the help of a Belgian, in Bure, he found a concealed route to Tellin and rejoined his unit.  This occurred on the night of 23 December 1944.
 
At 0830 hours, 24 December 1944, Lieutenant Carpenter received new orders from his battalion commander.  His command was to proceed to Rochefort to reinforce Company "I", 335th Infantry.
 
Company "K", less the 1st Platoon, still in the vicinity of Grupont arrived at Rochefort to find the town undergoing an intense artillery barrage.  The company dismounted from their vehicles outside the town and proceeded in on foot.  It was discovered, later, that the Germans had infiltrated into the town during 23 December 1944 and it was not known which building were safe.  Company "K" moved into a large hotel with Company "I".
 
Major Gordon Bahe also moved his battalion CP into the town that afternoon and placed his small staff in a building across the street from the hotel.
 
Throughout the remainder of the day and all during the night small arms fire rang through the town.  Two heavy machine guns and two 57mm anti-tank guns were located in the vicinity of the hotel.  Machine guns blazed away at known or suspected targets.  Later in the night two German tanks came into the town.  The Americans did not have weapons to combat the tanks adequately nor enough troops to attempt to take the offensive against the infantry.
 
At 0900 hours, 25 December 1944, the situation became desperate.  The hotel was receiving fire from buildings on all sides.  A German tank came up the street and fired at the hotel from extremely short range destroying several jeeps and two British reconnaissance cars in front of the building.  All crew members of one 57mm gun, out-posting the building, were killed by artillery fire.
 
0930 hours, Lieutenant Carpenter received orders from Major Bahe to withdraw to Jemelle (K2376).
 
While the units were being organized for the withdrawal, a sergeant from the Tank Destroyers arrived with news that Jemelle had been occupied by the Germans the night before.  Lieutenant Carpenter decided that in any event he must get his company out of Rochefort.  To screen their movements from the enemy's view the men threw smoke grenades into the street and moved under this artificial concealment, on the double.  Making their way to the north they moved down the railroad tracks for a thousand yards until they came to a wooded area.  Reorganization was once again in order and Lieutenant Carpenter called a halt.  A count revealed 80 men from Company "K", 60 men from Company "I", and a few from other units.  Totaling the count he found himself in command of 150 men.
 
Starting out on an azimuth of 130 degrees, the group traveled for one thousant yards and met a 2½ ton truck that had escaped from Rochefort.  The driver agreed to shuttle the men down the road Rochefort-Wanlin (K 0976) to a point where the bridge was out, a distance of about two miles.  When the last load arrived at this point a Belgian civilian informed them that German forces were ahead.  Lieutenant Carpenter decided to abandon the road as dangerous.  The question then arose as to what was to be done with the truck.  The driver decided to take a chance and try to reach Dinant and seek help.  With thirty volunteers he started out.
 
Lieutenant Carpenter took the remainder of his force and moved about 800 yards.  Three more civilians were encountered.  This time good news was forthcoming.Americans were reported ahead at the town of Wanlin.
 

Shortly after receiving this news Lieutenant Carpenter was discovered by the battalion S-1.  The S-1 proceeded on to Wanlin and returned with several trucks which transported the force to Givet, which was still the hands of friendly troops.  Arrival time 1730 hours, 24 December 1944.

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The 1st Platoon of Company "K"

 
When Lieutenant Carpenter decided to send the First Platoon, from Bure, to investigate the nine Germans and halftracks in the town of Grupont the civilian who had brought the news agreed to lead the platoon to Grupont by a concealed route.  The Belgian said he was sure the Americans could lay an ambush for the Germans.
 
The First Platoon was commanded by 2nd Lieutenant George O Prewitt.  They started for Grupont along the railroad track that curved away from the highway into the town.  The 30 men platoon came to a wooded bluff overlooking the village.  From the bluff Lieutenant Prewitt saw not nine Germans and one halftrack, but one company of infantry, five German tanks, two Sherman tanks, 15 halftracks, two American Jeeps, one American two and one-half ton truck, and three German ambulances, moving across the bridge at Grupont and heading toward Bure the town he had just left.
 
The lieutenant placed his second squad on the side of the bluff facing the road loading into Grupont from Bure.  His third squad, he placed on the side of the bluff overlooking the town.  The first squad was placed at the foot of that same side along the river bank to prevent the Germans coming along the face of the bluff and surprising his third squad.  Realizing that he was overwhelmingly outnumbered the lieutenant sent a runner back to the company commander to get further orders.  While the runner was gone a German, on outpost near the first squad position, spotted the men and started to fire.  The squad leader of the first squad made short work of him with one shot.  Luck was beaming on the 1st Platoon.  The noise of the convoy muffled the sound of the firing and saved the platoon from detection.
 
About fifteen minutes after he left, the runner returned with the news that the company had left Bure.  A short time later a German guard on the bridge spotted some members of the second squad and spread the alarm.  The Germans ent patrols into the woods, but the platoon managed to elude them.  After spraying the woods with automatic weapons fire the patrols withdrew.
 

Before making any further moves the lieutenant decided to send a patrol to verify the runners findings.  The patrol returned with the same message.Lieutenant Prewitt decided to withdraw.  He started out along the river running perpendicular to the road Bure-Tellin.  It was planned to follow the river to the south and then cut back, follow parallel to the road until he was opposite Tellin.  He would then move into Tellin where he assumed he would find the rest of Company "K".

 

With the BAR team covering the withdrawal, the platoon started out along the river.  After following the river for 20 minutes the platoon turned right and started on the journey for Tellin.  It was almost dusk and getting cold.The men had no food, and the water in their canteens had frozen.  They had no overcoats or overshoes.  Walking to a point where it was thought they were opposite Tellin, the platoon turned right once more.  But on arriving at the edge of the road they found that the Germans were all along it, and they had missed Tellin.  Carefully working their way across the road, the platoon found themselves in an open field.  Lieutenant Prewitt saw some haystacks in the field.  He selected a stack for each squad and a fourth for platoon headquarters.  A town could be seen in the distance.  Lieutenant Prewitt sent a patrol there to find out if it was the town of Tellin.  The patrol returned with the news that the town was Bure, but civilians had directed them to Tellin.  The Lieutenant Prewitt then sent out a second patrol to reconnoiter a route to Tellin.  It was 2300 hours on the night of the 23rd December 1944.  He gave instruction for the patrol to be back at 0100 hours, 24 December 1944.

 

At 0430 hours the next morning, two of the four men sent on patrol returned with the news that they had found the route and the other two were in a barn in Tellin awaiting their return.  They also reported neither Germans nor Americans in Tellin.  The two in the barn had agreed to return immediately, if the Germans entered the town before the platoon arrived.

 
When the platoon reached Tellin they found sandwiches and wine awaiting them.  The two men who had waited in the barn had not been idle.
 
At daybreak, 24 December 1944, Lieutenant Prewitt started out to see if he could find out anything about the situation from the town's people.  He learned that the road between Tellin and Rochefort had been cut by German armored units.  Civilians informed him that there were friendly troops at Givet.  But that was 55 kilometers away.  Discovering a doctor in the village who owned an automobile, the Lieutenant Prewitt decided to send two men to Givet to get a truck to come for the troops.  Just as the two men left a German reconnaissance car entered the town from the direction of Bure.  The automobile got safely on its way.  Lieutenant Prewitt returned to the barn to alert the rest of the platoon.  After circling the town and finding nothing suspicious the Germans returned in the direction from which they had come.  Lieutenant Prewitt later learned that two guards he had posted on the road to Bure had been captured by the Germans in the reconnaissance car.
 

Lieutenant Prewitt decided to start for Givet on foot and meet the trucks.  The platoon walked for a mile, and the, as was the custom, met a civilian.  This civilian was from the town of Chanly (K1567), and said there were American soldiers on the other side of the town.  Continuing through the town Lieutenant Prewitt spotted six engineers at the bridge on the outskirts.  He found that they had been left there to blow up the bridge before the German advance.  The Captain in charge of the engineers offered to take the platoon to Givet in the two trucks that he had with him.  The platoon loaded on the trucks.  While they were waiting to leave, a German tank came up to the other side of the bridge which had been blown.  The tank opened fire but missed the trucks.  As the trucks were pulling out, the men saw German paratroopers falling on the town behind.  They continued without mishap and arrived in Givet on Xmas day in time for a turkey dinner.

 
Source: Documents N.A.R.A.

By Lt Leonard CARPENTER

3rd Battalion

335th Infantry Regiment

84th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium