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Cavalry in the Gap

Cavalry in the Gap

The 14th Cavalry Group

and The Battle of the Bulge

For two days, this band of two hundred cold and confused Americans held the better part of two enemy divisions at bay.  During one of the worst winters in Europe, they literally battled the fog and friction of war.  Yet, battle narratives hardly address them.  When you do find data, the information is often negative.  The intriguing questions on their performance in a desperate situation remain largely unanswered.  Were they correctly employed?  Did they withdraw under enemy pressure or run in panic?  Was the commander incompetent?  One can finish a reading of the action and know relatively little about them.  However, when you dig into their past, you come away with a decidedly one-sided conclusion.  Simply stated -- the individual members of this hardy band of brothers rose to the challenge and fought bravely despite the hazardous of nature and the enemy.  Further, I am of the belief that men of the 14th Cavalry Group fought with distinction in the December 1944, Battle of the Bulge.  Their deeds, trials and tribulations, however, remain largely unknown.  This is most unfortunate. 
To some, the story of the 14th Cavalry that bleak December ranks as one of the true epics of American military history.  It is an opinion that is easy to appreciate.  Discussions and correspondence with the participants presents one with their vivid recollections of the confusion of battle.  The survivors relate tales reflecting their own selfless devotion to duty and bravery.  Almost fifty-year after the event, the collective memory of these mounted cavalrymen presents a compelling story of individual courage and endurance.  It is a fascinating and illuminating tale worthy of telling.  Their valor has for too long gone unnoticed.  By any measure, they are a heroic group. 
The Losheim Gap 
Along the border between Germany and Belgium, there is only one region conducive to military movement.  It is 5-mile wide area known as the Losheim Gap, named for the Belgium town of Losheim.  The area contains numerous valleys and steep hills supported by a limited road network.  During World War I, German horse cavalry advanced westward through the gap and quickly reached the Meuse River.  The same thing happened in 1940; Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s division sped through the Losheim Gap to gain the Meuse River and then push onto the English Channel.  In December 1944, the Germans again wanted to force the Meuse River through the Losheim Gap.  This time, however, the German army would meet resistance from a small but determined force of American armored cavalrymen. 
Day one 
The 18th Cavalry Squadron of the 14th Cavalry Group had been around the town of Manderfeld since late October.  This quiet, quaint Belgium village of one of many in the Losheim Gap.  In 1944, it was about as safe a haven as one could hope for in the midst of a war.  It was relatively peaceful that December, however, this was about to change rapidly; Manderfeld was about to become a very noisy place.  On 16 December, the cold night fog was giving way to another day of war. 
As the hazy dawn approached, loud voices shook, the young men of Company A, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion.  They rose from a restless night on top of straw mattresses or, if they were lucky, under down comforters.  Due to the intense cold, they really did not walk but rather shuffled to a typically tasteless breakfast of lukewarm coffee and cold powdered eggs.  The only sound came from the snow cracking and crunching beneath their boots.  They had little activity planned for the day.  The scheduled highlight was hardly a welcomed event.  In another hour or so, the Group Commander, Colonel Mark Devine, would arrive for an inspection tour of their neighbors in the 18th Cavalry Squadron.  The Tank Destroyer Company was attached to the squadron.  As such, they were subject to a visit from the Group Commander.  To a man, they dreaded his inspection methods.  A stern looking, strict disciplinarian, he would harp on such seemingly nonsensical items as the height of their bedding above the ground or the amount of dirt beneath their fingernails.  Once the commander departed, they surmised that the officers and noncommissioned officers would have them move quickly to correct the inevitable and innumerable deficiencies.  These corrections made little sense to them but were obviously an enormous concern to the officers. 
It confused them. Why all this emphasis on housekeeping?  They were seasoned combat veterans.  This was a battlefield not a barracks.  The contradictions of the situation drew their attention even at this ungodly hour of the morning.  Universally, they perceived the inspection as another example of the Army's "Mickey Mouse" mentality.  "Hell, this was every bit as bad as being in the stateside army."  Who would ever understand these strange Army ways? 
Yet, despite the appalling weather, inhospitable living conditions, and the day's prospects, one's thoughts rapidly shifted to the distant, dreamy world of home and Christmas with the family.  At any given time, you could close your eyes and smell the sweet fragrance of mother cooking the holiday turkey.  Only fourteen days remained until the holiday season.  Maybe the war would be over by Christmas.  It was a long shot, but still a delightful possibility.  This thought crisscrossed their minds as they waited in the breakfast line.  Other thoughts also entered their minds. Most of all, they were still mystified by the rhetorical question posed by every soldier since the Normandy invasion, namely, "Why hadn't the damn Germans thrown in the towel and admit they were beat?"  
Their company grade officers also reflected in the predawn gloom.  Their commander, twenty-nine year old Captain Stanton H. Nash, also dwelt on several issues while preparing for the day.  It was going to be another cold day. He dressed for the weather.  Over his long handles, the Fort Benning OCS graduate wore wool pants, heavy shirt and a pullover sweater. Despite the clothing, he shivered.  Nash shared his soldiers dread of the Group Commander.  His attitude mirrored the common perception of Colonel Devine as an uncaring leader. Perceptions.  The soldiers, the company commander and the Group commander all had perceptions.  Perceptions that did not necessarily reflect reality. In the upcoming battle, perceptions would form the basis for many key decisions. 
For the moment, Nash, however, was far more concerned and uncomfortable with the tactical situation.  For example, he wondered why no one in the Group had allowed him to place his twelve 76 mm towed anti tank guns in better positions.  He had to cover likely avenues of enemy armored approach throughout the sector.  His current locations were unsuitable. Hardly the perfect weapon system, the gun had to be ideally sited and camouflaged.  The weapon then had to be dug into position.  With a range of 5500 yards, a catastrophic kill was hardly likely.  However, the round could disable a German tank or soft skinned fighting vehicle.  The key to success lay in the placement of the gun.  You emplaced to achieve either flank or rear shot on an approaching enemy formation.  The gun then had to be quickly repositioned to avoid destructive enemy counter fire.  Placing the weapon in a new position required the crew of ten to manhandle the five thousand-pound gun back onto the prime mover, an M3 Half-track.  A dangerous, time consuming operation to perform, especially when German tanks were breathing down your neck. 
Equally annoying, the 18th Squadron's communications officer would not release to him a copy of their radio and signal instructions.  If committed, he had no way of communicating with either the Group Headquarters or the line squadron.  Puzzling way of doing business.  Altogether, not very pleasant or encouraging prospects.  Thank the Lord they were in a quiet sector of the line.  As time went on, Stan Nash fervently hoped that Colonel Devine would mellow.  Most of the TD officers were familiar with Colonel Devine from their time at Camp Hood.  He had been the commandant of the Tank Destroyer Center's Officer Candidate School. 
The Group Commander 
Mark Andrew Devine, Jr. was the third of five sons born to Mark and Emma Devine of San Francisco.  A cavalry officer commissioned in 1917, from the University of San Francisco.  He was a "hard nosed, blunt talking, spit and polish" officer. 
Of medium build, Devine emulated the dress and manner of a regular army cavalry officer.  Commissioned too late to participate in the First World War, he spent the inter-war years undergoing the normal series of military schooling and assignments.  Promotion was slow in the post World War I period.  It took ten years for him to attain the rank of Captain.  Another nine-year passed before he became a Major.  As war clouds gathered, after twenty plus years of service, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1940.  This was just three years after pinning on the gold oak leaves of a Major.  Things were definitely improving in the promotion arena.  Bigger opportunities might just be over the horizon if one played his cards right. 
Devine held some unique jobs.  Following the end of World War 1, he was in the American occupation force of Germany.  Married to the daughter of a former Canal Zone commanding general, Devine spent many years in Central America.  After graduating from the Army's Command and General Staff College in 1937, he voluntarily branch transferred from cavalry to field artillery.  In July of 1939, he received permission to return to cavalry branch.  He was promoted to the rank of full Colonel in January of 1941. 
Three years later at forty-eight years of age, Devine assumed command of the 14th Cavalry Group.  It was his first combat assignment.  He received orders to assume command of the Group following the failure of one of the squadrons in a routine field test.  There is some indication that individuals of the squadron in question purposely failed the evaluation in the mistaken belief that they would remain at Camp Maxey, Texas rather than be shipped overseas.  If this is correct, those soldiers involved got more than they ever bargained for in their new commanding officer.  Colonel Devine immediately put his imprint on the unit.  A new day had dawned and it was not a pleasant one for the Group.  Assuming the evaluation failure to be solely the result of incompetent small unit leaders, Devine instituted severe and, often times, brutal disciplinary action against any squadron officers who crossed his path the wrong way.  These actions won him few admirers among the officers and men.  The Group did not fail any more evaluations. 
By the time they reached France, Colonel Devine's leadership methods caused many to believe that he "would win his general stars" regardless of the cost to the unit.  Yet, others recall him as an individual commanding a unit "he cherished, to which he was devoted, activated with men he had personally chosen and with whom he would see the final victory in Europe.  Few dispute that despite his belligerent manner with subordinates, he seldom ventured forward to see his squadrons on line.  When he did go forward, several observers noted Devine "never visited one of the squadrons without escort by a machine gun jeep." 
The mission 
Major General Middleton's VIII Corps tasked Devine's group to defend an area of approximately seven miles between the newly arrived 106th Infantry Division in the South and the 99th Infantry Division in the North.  Additionally, the Group was to maintain contact between the two divisions.  It reported to the 106th Infantry Division. 
Old acquaintances, Middleton apparently respected the professional opinion and personal actions of Devine.  He felt confident that Devine would accomplish the mission.  However, the soundest military minds in the Army at the time realized the units in the Losheim area were stretched thin.  It was a calculated risk.  There were not enough men and equipment to be strong everywhere.  Anyway, this was a quiet area of the line covered by Lieutenant General Hodge's First United States Army.  No one anticipated serious action occurring anywhere along the Army's twenty-six miles of frontage. 
In addition to the supporting anti-tank company, Colonel Devine's 14th Cavalry Group contained a headquarters and two cavalry reconnaissance squadrons -- the 32nd and 18th.  The 275th Field Artillery Battalion supported him with eighteen self-propelled 105mm howitzers.  It was an impressive mobile force. 
The cavalry men 
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Damon, a 1933 graduate of the Military Academy, commanded the forward squadron.  He assumed command of the 18th Cavalry in July 1943.  Like many other capable men, Damon had moved quickly in the wartime promotion system.  In contrast to Devine, he was promoted to Captain in 1940 and Major in 1942.  The silver oak leaves of a Lieutenant Colonel were his in -August of 1943.  Bill Damon was a tall man, neat in dress and utterly devoted to the welfare of his squadron.  The men in the squadron recall that he was an impressive officer.  Thoughtful, dedicated and knowledgeable, Bill Damon had won their loyalty.  In return, they had earned his respect. 
Col. Devine and Damon were often at dagger points.  Damon did not try to hide his ill feelings over the Group Commander's leadership style.  Their differences would play a significant role in the upcoming battle. 
Attached to the 2nd Infantry Division in October of 1944, their task was to maintain and improve the defensive positions in the Losheim Gap.  Skilled veterans, they continually strengthened and improved their positions.  The Group Headquarters came to Manderfeld to assume control of the sector on the 11th of December.  Colonel Devine placed his other squadron, the 32nd Cavalry, in reserve near Vielsalm some twenty plus road miles West of Manderfeld.  It was Colonel Devine's plan to retain the 18th in Manderfeld while the 32nd refitted in Vielsalm where there were adequate maintenance facilities.  Then, after refitting, the 32nd would replace the 18th on line.  The 18th would then rotate into Vielsalm for the repair and replacement process. 
Known as cavalry reconnaissance squadrons (CRS), each unit contained three cavalry troops- A, B, and C respectively, an assault gun troop, Troop E, and a light tank company, F Company.  The total authorized level of each troop was 145 men.  Each cavalry troop had three reconnaissance platoons.  Each platoon had twenty-nine men.  They manned three M8 armored cars and six jeeps.  They had a variety of weapons. T hese included: three sixty-millimeter mortars and three .30 caliber machine guns.  Each one of the M8 armored cars was armed with a 37mm cannon, a .30 caliber coaxial machine gun, and a .50 caliber anti aircraft machine gun. 
Additionally, many vehicles had scrounged automatic weapons mounted on them.  The one hundred and sixteen men in the assault gun troop, Troop E, operated eight self-propelled 75mm howitzers.  The light Tank Company had seventeen M3 tanks armed with 37mm cannons.  It had an authorized strength of ninety-seven officers and men.  Organized for fast movement and reconnaissance, the squadrons had neither the firepower nor the manpower to engage in sustained defensive operations. 
The 32nd Squadron 
Lieutenant Colonel Paul A. Ridge, another Regular Army Cavalry Officer, commanded the 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.  He assumed command of the Squadron in October of 1944.  A 1926 graduate of the University of Illinois, Ridge had been the Group Executive Officer.  During his eighteen years of military service, Lieutenant Colonel Ridge attended several leadership courses and held various staff positions.  At the start of the War, he was in the then British West Indies as the officer in charge of the Post Exchange system.  Returning to the United States in July of 1943, Ridge received some combat skill refresher training prior to joining the 14th Cavalry in England.  Command of the squadron was his first tactical assignment in quite a few years of active military service. 
The new Executive Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Augustine D. Dugan.  A 1924 Military Academy graduate, "Patsy" joined the Group Headquarters in November of 1944.  Dugan was an outstanding cavalry officer.  After graduating from the Military Academy, he excelled while serving in repetitive cavalry assignments.  These included duty in the Philippine Islands, operations officer for the 2nd Cavalry Brigade at Fort Bliss, Texas, and executive officer for an infantry regiment in the 8th Infantry Division.  While serving in Normandy with the 8th Infantry Division, he received the Silver Star.  He was "easy going, business like, alert, and very likable."  In the days to come, Patsy Dugan put these fine qualities to use in the midst of chaos. 
Positions taken
A defensive assignment seldom provides cavalry the opportunity to excel.  Moreover, the terrain, limited road net and appalling weather precluded the 14th Cavalry from taking advantage of their greatest asset -- mobility.  Given the mission, Damon had few choices.  He had to cover a great deal of real estate with a small force.  Map study revealed two main armor avenues of approach.  The principal route began on the German side of the border.  It started at the village of Hallschlag then followed the Our River valley through several Belgian villages.  The twenty-two foot macadam road twisted through the villages of Krewinkel, Weckerath, Andler, and Schonberg.  The approach terminated in the city of St. Vith.  The same type road system gave an advancing force another route.  This alternate way began in Losheim.  The approach then crossed Merischeid and Manderfeld. 
After Manderfeld, the route connected with the principal avenue at Andler.  Typical of the terrain, these routes traversed narrow village streets, winding roads and blind turns.  It was hardly a high-speed approach.  However, both routes allowed movement by heavy military traffic
To defend the sector, Damon placed his units in a series of strong points about a thousand yards apart along the nine thousand-yard front.  Captain Stan Porsche led Troop A.  Porsche put his first platoon in Kobscheid.  The remainder of the Troop went into position at Roth.  Max Crawford of Troop C's first platoon occupied Afst while Ken Farren's second platoon went into Krewinkel.  Their commander, Captain John Walker, placed Lieutenant Ledru King's third platoon between the two towns.  The platoon leaders organized their position. Meanwhile, Stan Nash of A Company, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion, put his men and anti-tank systems in various positions throughout the sector. 
Walter Gledhill emplaced the First Platoon minus two squads at Merischeid. J ohn Arculeer's Second Platoon was at Lanzerath.  Carl Johnston's Third Platoon moved into Berterath. Sergeant Joe Fiscus, of the First Platoon, took his two-gun squad into Roth.  Nash obeyed the order to occupy the previously attached anti tank company's positions "man for man, and gun for gun."  Flabbergasted by the order, he complied with the Group S-3's directive and scratched his head in utter frustration. 
Recall, the 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron refused to allow him to net with their radio systems.  These actions were to cost the Group dearly in the days ahead.  Damon had the squadron command post in Manderfeld.  When Devine moved up, he placed the Group command post in Manderfeld.  The Group followed the VIII Corps instructions to avoid alerting the Germans as to the arrival of fresh units by replacing previously held positions "man for man, and gun for gun."  It was to no avail.  The Germans observed their every move.  From Manderfeld, Damon's Troop E and F Company supported the forward troops from this location.  Troop B was in the South under the control of the 106th Infantry Division. 
Behind Manderfeld, the 275th Field Artillery established positions in and around the village of Medendorf.  Forward observation posts were co-located with the Cavalry at Merischeid, Afst, Krewinkel, Roth, and Kobscheid.  They plotted over two hundred artillery targets.  A tried and tested artillery unit, Roy Clay's outfit would provide yeoman service in the days ahead. 
The Cavalry Troops vigorously patrolled the area to their front.  If trouble was coming, they wanted to repel it.  However, combat was the farthest thought from their minds.  For the last few weeks, they had little if any contact with the enemy.  The Germans intermittently fired artillery at them.  The Americans believed the artillery firing to be nothing more than harassment.  One wondered if the Germans were in strength on the other side. 
The enemy 
Indeed, the Germans were in strength across the line from the Americans.  The men of the 18th Volksgrenadier Division under the command of Major General Gunther Hoffmann-Schonborn patrolled the Schnee Eifel area.  These were not the soldiers of Rommel's 1940 army.  After five years of conflict, the Germans were scraping the bottom of the personnel barrel.  This was a typical polyglot division.  Formed in Denmark in September 1944, the division had 9500 men assigned.  They were formed into three grenadier regiments - the 293, 294 and 295.  They were largely untrained civilians, displaced naval personnel and air force ground crews.  They averaged one officer and one noncommissioned officer per company. 
By early November, the Division defended an area along the Schnee Eifel.  While in this defensive position, Colonel Moll, the operations officer, attempted to mold the men into a coherent organization.  Using the steady but small flow of previously wounded replacements, Moll organized a non-commissioned officer training school far to the rear of their positions.  One hundred and fifty of the best men in the division were chosen to attend the school. 
They were in training when Moll received word of a newly formulated offensive action -- Operation Watch On the Rhine.  He was shocked.  Up to this time, all his plans and training programs had been concerned with a withdrawal under enemy pressure to the Rhine River.  Sworn to absolute secrecy, on December the 9th, the Division Commander received the details of the offensive orders. 
The orders were simple and to the point.  The Division was to attack from their current positions to the northwest.  Their attack would protect the northern shoulder of the 5th Panzer Army's penetration.  The 244th Assault Gun Brigade would augment the division.  This unit contained a hodge podge of forty light skinned armored vehicles.  It was not much, but it was better than nothing was.  Hoffmann-Schonborn could inform his regimental commanders of the attack no earlier than 13 December.  They in turn could brief their subordinate battalion and company commanders no earlier than 14 December.  The attack was to take place on 16 December.  Additionally, the division was forbidden from recalling the men attending the non-commissioned officers’ school for fear of alerting the Americans. 
Attacking to the North of the 18th Volksgrenadier, the 3rd Parachute Division was the spearhead of the 6th Panzer Army's First SS Panzer Corps.  The division enjoyed a superb combat reputation.  However, like the 18th, the reputation hardly made up for the inexperience of the present members.  Colonel Moll learned from his superior, General Von Manteuffel, that there would be no artillery preparation fired in support of his operation.  Additionally, the 5th Panzer Army made it clear that they planned to by pass the town of St. Vith to the north.  This meant that Moll would be attacking to the northwest while other forces attacked to his north.  The danger of bumping into the other attacking force was minimum.  With the danger of fratricide reduced, the formulation of the plan of attack consumed the time available to the division staff. 
Initially, the 18th Volksgrenadier formed a mobile battalion.  This element consisted of a 100-man bicycle mounted reconnaissance company and one company of engineers in horse drawn wagons.  This force was attached to the 1818 Tank Destroyer Battalion.  The Tank Destroyer Battalion contained twelve self-propelled 76mm tracked vehicles.  Moll planned to employ this force as either a reserve or to exploit any break through by the attacking regiments. 
The Division would form three attacking waves from the available force.  These elements were designated, respectively, the assault, support and reserves force. The initial wave, the assault force, consisted - of approximately one-third of the troops from the two lead regiments - the 294th and 295th Infantry.  This force would move out at 0400 hours on 16 December.  Their task was to infiltrate the thinly held American lines to their direct front.  At 0500 hours, another third of the force, known as the support force, would advance to the northwest against the troopers of the 14th Cavalry.  The final third of both regiments, the reserve force, was to advance in route formation to link up with the support force. 
Once the attack began, Moll fully expected the 106th Infantry Division to conduct a violent counter-attack into the German defensive positions along the Schnee Eifel.  To forestall this expected reaction, the 293rd Infantry Regiment was to deploy forward to meet and repel any American attack. 

Moll's overly optimistic objective for each regiment on the first day of the attack:

- 293rd Regiment - the high ground north of Radscheid after securing the defensive line Bleialf -- Radscheid from the anticipated counter attack.

- 294th Regiment - the high ground north of Radscheid after securing the defensive line Auw -- Radscheid.

- 295th Regiment - the high ground west of Schlausenbach.  The mobile battalion formed the division reserve force.  It was an overly ambitious plan given the composition and training of the division.

A bold counter attack by the Americans would spell doom for the hapless division.  Moll understood this quite clearly.  He also understood what failure would mean to him and his family.  He gave the effort his best.  On the other side of the line, men of the 14th Cavalry did their best to frustrate any German attack.

Clearly, both sides would go into battle with strengths and weaknesses. Victory would go to the side that put overwhelming strength against weakness.  The battle balanced on quick movement to exploit a given weakness.  People at the ground level of military strategy rarely appreciate these fine points.  When the attack came, men on both sides would simply fight for survival.  Talented, determined leadership forged this natural desire for survival into a formidable weapon.  Battlefield success demanded this type of aggressive, concerned leadership.  Would it be forthcoming?  Few men did not dwell on this subject nor did they look eastward at the two red flares drifting lazily through the morning fog.  It was now about five in the morning of 16 December. 

The attack - 16 December 1944 
The sound of incoming artillery and rockets broke the relative quiet of the morning.  An incredible racket for so cold and bleak a morning, the impacting steel cut wire communications and had men dashing for cover.  Reports of the firing soon reached Squadron headquarters.  The barrage continued until about six thirty. 
Despite the assurances of the Panzer Army commander that there would be no artillery preparation fired, someone did not get the word and commenced firing at about the time Moll's men were moving out.  Mercifully, the intensity of the barrage shifted as the 18th Volksgrenadier Division came out of the fog.  They had a hard time.  The lack of training was evident.  Things were so bad that the attacking regiments did not possess the expertise necessary to navigate through the Gap. 
To assist them, powerful searchlights stabbed through the fog guiding their attack.  All they had to do was follow the beam.  Unfortunately, the beam also silhouetted them against the snow.  Untrained and led by inexperienced non-commissioned officers, Schonborn's men stumbled through the morning mist towards Manderfeld.  As they came into range, the cavalry outposts extracted a fearful toll.  Automatic weapons and canister rounds hurled through the fog, ripping holes in the attackers' ranks. 
In Afst, C Troop's T5 Hurley fired belt after belt into the massed German formation.  His outpost destroyed forty.  The intensity of the defenders fire resulted in an enormous expenditure of ammunition.  It was going to be difficult if not impossible to get ammunition to the beleaguered units.  At noon, Lieutenant Colonel Damon ordered Walker to withdraw the Afst platoon to Manderfeld through Krewinkel. Before leaving, Lieutenant Crawford destroyed a German assault gun with a well-aimed bazooka shot.  Nash's TD men in the northern portion of the Gap took a fearful pounding.  Unable to contact anyone, waves of enemy infantry and armor overwhelmed them.  Nash's men withdrew under intense enemy pressure.  This portion of the line had little with which to resist
The weather, the weight of the weapons, the on-rushing Germans and the loss of landline communications to Manderfeld forced the anti-tank gunners to move.  In some cases, they abandoned the heavy anti tank guns. Impacting artillery rounds landed near the M-3 Half-track shattering the distributor rotors.  Without the prime movers, the weapons could not be moved.  Seven of the heavy guns were lost.  Five of these weapons were already firing against the retreating Americans. 
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Farren's platoon in Krewinkel confronted a large group of enemy soldiers.  Amazingly, the soldiers were marching four abreast; oblivious to the Americans presence.  These Germans were men from the reserve force who believed they were going forward to link up with the successful assault and support forces.  They approached in a route march formation not expecting anything.  Farren's men held their fire until the force was twenty yards from their positions.  Then they opened fire.  The shock power of the platoon's organic weapons, supplemented by the massed artillery of the 275th FA, made short order of the attackers. 
The German searchlights went off as the attackers struggled out of the concentrated fires.  Responding to a request for ammunition, the troop executive officer, Lieutenant Mills, started forward.  A force of fifty Germans quickly surrounded him.  Refusing their demands for surrender, Mills ordered his driver to "keep going."  It was the last order he ever gave.  A rifleman dispatched him with a bullet through the head. 
Early afternoon - 16 December 1944 
It was now early afternoon.  The 32nd rolled into Manderfeld.  Troop E was at the head of the column.  1st Lieutenant Earle A. Lawton, the commander, placed his 75mm howitzers a thousand yards west of Manderfeld.  Four of his six guns completed the road march.  They quickly tied in with the fire direction center of the 275th Field Artillery.  Ridge's Troop C now entered Manderfeld.  Troops A and B were just outside Andler, five miles to the southwest.  Devine directed C Troop to the north.  Lawton's guns were directed to support the Troop.  He then divided Troop A.  Two platoons covered the high ground southwest of Manderfeld.  The other platoon assumed the gigantic task of covering the area recently vacated by the tank destroyer company.  It was an impossible task.  Captain Franklin Lindsey and his Troop B remained at Andler. 
German formations moved into Auw. Devine planned to attack them.  The old horse cavalryman wanted to lash back at the enemy.  He sent a reconnaissance patrol out.  They encountered strong resistance and barely made it back to Manderfeld.  The enemy was too strong in the south.  Something had to be done.  Devine ordered the 32nd to re-take Lanzerath to the north.  C Troop, supported by Troop E, moved out.  They covered three quarters of the two miles to the village when they were hit by elements of the 3rd Parachute Division moving to the west.  The commander of Troop C, Captain Charles Martin, was now in a fierce firefight.  Martin's guys were barely holding their position.  Under a terrific pounding, the force returned to the start point. 
Devine was intent on regaining lost ground.  A task force formed under the control of Major Jim Mayes, the 32nd's S-3.  About two-thirty in the afternoon, Mayes' Task Force attempted to take Krewinkel.  The Germans stopped them cold. It was now clear.  Manderfeld was about to be an island surrounded by strong enemy forces.  The Group had to reposition to survive.  By four that day, it was all over in Manderfeld.  The remnants of the 18th moved to Heppenbach and Holzheim.  The Group Headquarters went to Meyerode.  As they moved, more bad news reached Damon.  The Germans had destroyed Stan Porsche and his troop in Roth and Kobscheid.  On the plus side, Sergeant Fiscus' anti tank guns extracted a heavy toll from the Germans before succumbing around 1500 that afternoon. 
As if things were not bad enough, Ridge, commander of the 32nd, personally went to "get ammunition."  According to observers, he was in a highly nervous state.  Major John Kracke, the exec, now led the squadron.  By early evening, the squadron closed in on Herresbach. 
Worried that his southern defense of Holzheirn might be caught by a German pincer moving from Losheim-Honsfeld and from Manderfeld-Andler, 1st Lieutenant Reppa, commander A Troop 32nd Cavalry, moved to Honsfeld where he could control both approaches.  His troop arrived there after a hazardous trip under blackout conditions.  He was surprised to find the rest center of the 394th Infantry Regiment (99th Division). 
The men in the center believed they were well behind the front lines.  They told Reppa to relax. Nevertheless, he established a loose perimeter defense of the town and awaited dawn.  With less traffic, he would move west and then south to the 32nd's assembly area.  His plan was thwarted. Before daylight, following retreating US vehicles, German tanks and infantry moved through the town and made motor escape impossible.  Reppa radioed the 32nd of this huge armor breakthrough and surrendered.  He then joined ninety-two other A troopers on the long march into captivity.  The lucky ones in the troop made it out on foot. 
It had been a trying day.  Still, Devine was intent on regaining his original positions.  To do it, the Group needed assistance.  He desperately needed ground troops and heavy artillery.  The 106th had the assets required for a successful attack.  Devine had to persuade the division to release those assets to his control. 
In Bastogne, to the south of the Group, Major Levin L. Lee, the Group S-4, concluded his duties as a member of a general court-martial board.  Hearing of the attack, he wisely decided not to attempt to rejoin the Group until the next morning.  Shortly after midnight, he received a call from the Group liaison officer with the 106th, Captain Garland Jones. 
Jones told Lee that the Group urgently needed ammunition.  However, he could not provide Lee with a clear picture of the tactical situation.  Lee found a friend in the Corps G-2 shop and questioned him about the situation.  The friend told him that details were sketchy.  However, given the available information, VIII Corps estimated that the Germans were making a limited counterattack to restore lost positions along the Siegfried Line.  Again, perceptions lulled the Americans into a false sense of security.  The Corps staff believed the newly arrived division was just suffering from a bad case of the jitters. 
This was hardly the case.  The 106th Infantrymen had a tough fight on their hands.  They were fighting for their very lives.  Two of the regiments were on the Schnee Eifel under heavy attack.  The hard-pressed regimental commanders pleaded for help.  The Corps promised assistance to the division commander, MG Jones.  Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for Devine to get the division commander's attention.  Yet, something had to be done -- quickly. 
Hat in hand, Devine appeared at the division command post.  Understandably preoccupied with the disintegration of his division, Jones did not see or talk with Devine.  The cavalry commander paced the halls.  He waited all night.  Why?  Shouldn't he be with his unit?  There was much to be done.  What was his intent for the next day's action?  Without his direct control and personal leadership, the 14th Cavalry moved through the night.  His men were handicapped as much by the psychological impact of the leadership void as by the darkness of the winter night.  At 0800 on the 17th, Devine returned to his headquarters at Meyerode.  He received no forces from the 106th.  One thing was clear, he was on his own. 
Day twoo - 17 December 1944 
Things were not looking well for the Group.  The 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron was down to Troop E and Company F.  The 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron did not fare much better.  The Germans had destroyed Troop A at Honsfeld.  By eight that morning, Devine discovered that B Troop of the 32nd Cavalry, under Captain Frank Lindsey, lost nineteen men and several vehicles.  The Germans caught them on the Auw road east of Schonberg.  Yet, B Troop extracted a heavy toll from the Germans. 
At ten o'clock, patrols reported German tanks at Ambleve.  The 32nd Squadron now went to Meyerode.  They arrived about eleven that morning.  Devine directed the Group to form a delay line along the Wallerode-Born axis.  By one in the afternoon, Kracke had the squadron on the specified delay line
American aircraft now attacked the suspected enemy locations in the Gap.  Despite the additional firepower, the Germans continued to move relatively unimpeded to the north of the Group's delay line.  The battered 18th, along with the Group headquarters, was forced into Poteau.  Confusing moves now took place as the Group directed the 32nd to move off the delay line to Vielsalm.  No enemy action caused them to move.  The reason for the move is unclear. 
Exhausted, the men struggled to organize for the move in the intense cold.  Major John Kracke, commanding the 32nd Cavalry since the departure of Ridge, maneuvered the squadron on this demanding day.  Kracke was the ideal man for the job.  Courageous, he assumed control with the cool confidence of a professional soldier.  His task was awesome.  Vehicles had to be started, emergency repairs performed, and men fed.  These tasks demanded time.  Time was hardly on their side. 
Meanwhile, Major Lee, the Group S-4, was out rounding up supply trucks.  By noon, his men loaded them with ammunition and rejoined the Group.  Late that afternoon, Devine decided to reconnoiter the Born-Recht-Poteau road system.  He left the headquarters with his customary armored car escort.  Major Lawrence Smith, the operations officer; Major Jim Worthington, the intelligence officer; and Major Lee, the logistics officer; accompanied the Group Commander.  Placing him and key staff officers at such risk was hardly the smartest decision of the day. 
Who was to manage the battle in his absence?  Who was available?  Ridge?  No one had seen hide or hair of him for two days.  Damon?  He was readily available.  Yet, no one designated him as the interim commander.  It was no secret that he and Devine intensely disliked each other.  Result, Dugan correctly assumed control at this critical time. 
Meanwhile, the Group Commander's reconnaissance convoy was slowly treading its' way north.  At six that evening, Jim Worthington, in the lead-armored car of the party, saw movement to his front.  Figures appeared on the road.  The vehicles slowed.  As one of the shadows approached, Worthington shouted, "He's a Jerry!"  The S-2 promptly shot the enemy soldier.  A flare lit the night sky.  All hell broke loose as the machine guns of the convoy opened up on the troops deploying from the German vehicles.  Bullets flew crisscrossing the weirdly illuminated scene.  Somehow, the lead-armored car in the party managed to turn around and return to Poteau. 
Colonel Devine and his S-3, Major Smith, abandoned their vehicle and fled from the scene on foot.  Five hours later, Devine arrived at the Group headquarters in Poteau.  He had a slight wound from the ambush.  Dugan made it back to the command post about two-thirty that morning.  Exhausted from traveling overland for some nine miles, Devine turned to Dugan and said, "Patsy, you take over." 
"He then left the room and went to bed." 
The last day - 18 December 1944 
At one in the morning, the Group Headquarters received a message from VIII Corps.  Major General Middleton wanted to see the Group Commander. Damon and Ridge were in the command post.  Damon decided to go to VIII Corps headquarters in Bastogne.  Why? 
There is much speculation over the rationale for his action.  Was he going to Corps to present his perception of the Group Commander's management of the battle?  There is no record of his discussing the matter with Dugan.  Ridge was senior to Damon.  Yet, Damon went to higher headquarters.  The crisis of the moment, however, precluded reflection on Damon's motivation.  Again, there was no love lost between the Group Commander and Damon.  Obviously, there were more pressing problems for the Group Headquarters to contend with this cold night.  About this time, Devine left as a non-battle casualty. 
Dugan was now in command. 
He received a message at midnight from the 106th Infantry ordering him to attack and seize Born.  He asked for a delay.  The division granted his request.  Dugan left the command post to assess the situation and see to the welfare of the men. 
He decided they would attack to seize Born at first light.  There was still much to be done.  Exhausted but confident, he quickly swung into action.  He went out into the darkness. Dugan was a fireball.  He organized men, equipment, and vehicles.  With a cigar in his mouth, he gathered four light tanks and a platoon of assault guns out of the heavy line of traffic streaming westward.  Eventually, C Troop of the 32nd joined their ranks.  Dugan designated Jim Mayes, the operations officer of the 32nd, as commander of the attack.  The sparse road network was going to impede their progress.  The heavy movement of combat service vehicles to the east only exacerbated the problem for the cavalrymen. 
Major Kracke, the 32nd's exec, was in Vielsalm.  He organized a task force to assist Mayes' outfit.  This hastily organized crew went onto the road bucking the westbound traffic.  The task force made little headway.  It was frustrating.  No one would get out of his or her way.  Ridge, the nominal squadron commander, appeared again about nine.  Ridge concluded they could not go up the road.  Pulling Kracke aside, he announced, "It won't work."  He was right.  They could not use the road.  Task Force Kracke made no further effort to reach Mayes' force. 
Meanwhile, Task Force Mayes valiantly attempted to accomplish its mission to no avail.  The enemy was too strong.  They held open the road running out of Poteau to the west.  It was the best they could do under the circumstances.  Mayes analyzed the situation and decided to withdraw his meager force to Vielsalm.  They made it by late afternoon.  Things were quickly coming to a head for the Group. 
The end 
The scope of the German onslaught caused several reactions by the allied command.  Units went forward to plug the hole.  Large American formations roared out of Holland.  Moving into St. Vith, the 7th Armored Division assumed control of the Group at one that afternoon.  Dugan reported to division headquarters. Returning to the Group, he announced that Devine and Ridge had been relieved.  Ironically, Major General Middleton, the Corps commander, ordered Dugan to the shattered 28th Infantry Division.  He departed immediately for his new assignment.  He commanded an infantry battalion for the remainder of the war.  At the same time, Lieutenant Colonel Damon received a message: 

"Colonel Stanton, Chief of Staff, VIII Corps, VO (Verbal Order) attached 14th Cavalry Group (Mecz) to the 7th Armored Division.  General Hasbrouck, Commanding General 7th Armored Division, directed that 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron absorb 32nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron and 14th Cavalry Group for the purpose of creating Reconnaissance Squadron capable of operating -- completed by 191200 Dec 1944."

The seventy-two hour delay action of the Group ended.  Decimated, they needed men and material to continue fighting.  They withdrew from the battle area. 
What had the Group accomplished?  They had ravaged the 18th Volksgrenadier to near uselessness.  They had blunted the drive of the 3rd Parachute Division.  They had alerted higher headquarters of a heavy armor attack in the north.  They had delayed the enemy in their sector for at least a day.  These were impressive displays of decisive small unit leadership. 
The 14th Cavalry Group would eventually reconstitute.  The veterans of this brave band returned to the fight.  Near war's end, they played an important role in the seizure of the Remagen bridgehead.  Their action resulted in the awarding of a presidential unit citation.  However, the Group received no awards, recognition, or commendations for service during the Battle of the Bulge. 
Col. David J. JUDGE

14th Cavalry Group


Battle of the Bulge,