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US Army

Defense of Monschau

Defense of Monschau
 

(The following was extracted from a history of the 38th which was submitted by David A. Levine)

 

On 16 December 1944, the German Army in the West opened its great winter offensive.  The battle later became known as The Ardennes, but it could very easily have been The Battle of Liege were it not for the defense about to be narrated.

 

At 0535 hours a tremendously heavy artillery and rocket barrage hit the "C" Troop positions and the Squadron CP area, and then rolled back to hit "B" Troop and "F" Company on the Mutzenich Hill.   This barrage was followed at 0600 hours by the attack of the 1st Battalion, 751st Regiment, 36th VG Division on "C" Troop's right and the 2nd platoon, "F" Company, S/Sergeant Bielicki commanding, defending the Roer Valley in Monschau.  The spearhead of the attack was completely smashed by canister fire of the tank platoon delivered at a range of 50 yards.   A "C" Troop Patrol under T/5 Van Order broke up other attacking elements, as they emerged from Menzerath, with artillery and mortar fire which he called for and adjusted by radio.   When "F" Company's mortar illuminating flares revealed more enemy approaching up the valley, Sergeant Bielicki requested artillery defensive concentrations which broke up this attack.   However, the enemy reorganized and attempted to infiltrate into the tank positions.   Sergeant Messano seized an anti-aircraft light machine gun and placed it in position, dismounted, to block for good this attempt.   Continued "C" Troop mortar fire and artillery fire finally broke up concerted enemy activity in the valley, except for sniper fire all day.

 
Meanwhile, the enemy launched another attack at 0830 hours down the winding road, which led from Imgenbroich to the north end of Monschau, known as the "snake road".  This attack was first brought to a halt by machine gun fire from "C" Troop's 2nd and 3rd platoons, and then smashed by fire from the 62nd Field Artillery Battalion and "E" Troop.  German patrols were observed and fired on all parts of the Squadron line during the rest of the day.  When an observer reported that all the enemy pillboxes were being loaded with extra men, it was plain that another and heavier attack was due to come.  Reinforcements were requested of Group Headquarters, which procured Company "A" 146th Combat Engineering Battalion, Captain Ball commanding.  One platoon was given to each of "B" and "C" Troops to bolster their line, while the 3rd platoon was dug in on the hill behind Monschau to cover the front line positions with overhead fire and to protect our right flank.  Six machine crews from the 186th Field Artillery Battalion, and attached Tank Destroyer"s were also put into the line with "F" Company's hard-pressed 2nd platoon.
 
The night of the 16th and 17th was marked by much activity.  As many as five enemy searchlights lit up the Mutzenich Hill and a score or more large low-flying planes flew westward over the Squadron line.  These were the planes which dropped Lieutenant Colonel Von der Heyd's Parachute Battalion behind the Squadron line.  At 0400 hours a "C" Troop listening post under T/5 Allen Anderson on the Merzerath Hill detected a force of 60 or 70 enemy approaching their post.  They called for and received fire from "E" Troop within two minutes, which broke up the enemy endeavor.
 
At 0615 hours, another heavy barrage struck the Squadron line, even reaching back to the "C" Troop mortars this time.  At 0630 hours, the enemy launched his initial attack to pierce the line in "C" Troop's left.  The enemy, having assembled in the draw east of Mutzenich during the night, attacked "F" Company's 1st platoon at the railroad track, but were finally driven off with machine gun fire, and punished severely by artillery fire as they retired into the draw.  At 0800 hours, the full weight of the entire 751st Regiment struck the Squadron, as one attack coordinated with the initial attack just mentioned was made down the "snake road" while the main effort was made in an all out assault on the Mutzenich Hill.  The attack down the "snake road" was met by machine gun fire from "C" Troop's 3rd platoon, but kept coming.  It was finally stopped by tank and Tank Destroyer fire from "F" Company's 3rd platoon whose weapons overlooked the "C" Troop position.  Artillery fire further broke up this attack.
 
Meanwhile, by 0900 hours, the pressure on "B" Troop was becoming heavier.  The enemy threw his whole strength against the "B" Troop line and managed to break through a gap of 200 yards between the 2nd and 1st platoons, not covered by fire and observation.  The attackers continued west to overrun three artillery observation posts and to establish themselves in the woods to "B" Troop's rear.  Other elements broke through the 2nd platoon's right to attack the Troop CP, which was defended by Troop Headquarters men. hen the "B" Troop commander, Captain Joseph R. Sain, reported this situation, the reserve platoon of the Engineer Company was sent to his aid under Captain Meyer of the Squadron Staff.  When Captain Sain received these reinforcements, plus two "F" Company tanks, he directed a counterattack with his reinforcements and his own 2nd platoon.  The counterattack, personally led by Lieutenant Yontz and Sergeant Oxenham, swept forward down the road toward Staffelbusch where the penetration had been made. In a viscous small arms fight, the enemy was routed from his penetration area and the line was restored.  As the enemy retreated, "E" Troop's observers, S/Sergeant Fisher and Sergeant Sullivan, who had partaken in the counterattack, ceased their rifle fire to set up their radio and bring down "E" Troop's fire on the retreating enemy.
 

While this activity was taking place, the remainder of the line was busy. "F" Company's 2nd platoon and a patrol of "C" Troop on the right of the line each observed, and broke up with artillery fire small (60 or 70 man) enemy attacks coming from Menzerath.  At 1200 hours, S/Sergeant Zukoff, "E" Troop Field Observer in the trenches observed four enemy tanks on the Menzerath Hill.  He destroyed one with fire from "E" Troop, and two with the 186th Field Artillery Battalion.  The forth one withdrew. "B" Troop's 1st platoon was protecting its exposed right flank with a combat patrol while the Field Observer, from the 62nd Field Artillery station, with this platoon brought down a heavy concentration on two companies of infantry attempting to cross the railroad to the front, thus stopping this attack. "F" Company's 1st and 3rd platoons were busy firing on supporting waves attacking "B" Troop.  At 1000 hours, the enemy continued his efforts on the "C" Troop trenches and in the draw north of the "hairpin turn".  At this time, when one German machine gun crew managed to set up their gun on the "hairpin turn", Sergeant Martin and three men left their tanks to destroy the enemy crew with a hand grenade attack.  When one company made another attempt on the "C" Troop trenches, this attack was brought under artillery fire, which stopped it.  However one enemy observer managed to reach the house 70 yards in front of the trenches, only to be blown out of it by the Tank Destroyer attached to the 3rd platoon of "F" Company.  This action exemplified the coordination made possible by efficient communications.  Anti-aircraft gunners fired on a 20 planes German strafing attack at 1200 hours one plane was brought down with the credit going to Corporal Fitzpatrick of "B" Troop's Headquarters Platoon.  "B" Troop's 3rd platoon under Lieutenant Shehab and S/Sergeant MacDonald was under heavy artillery during much of the action, but was never attacked.  However, a patrol from this platoon under Sergeant Becker intercepted a 17 man German paratrooper patrol in the woods behind the platoon and drove it off after taking one PW.

 
During the height of the action when "B" Troop's line had been penetrated, the Squadron Commander had requested reinforcement of Group Headquarters. T his request was caused by a PW report that the main attack was to be made in the afternoon.  At 1100 hours, the Commanding Officer of "Company "A", 47th Armored Infantry Battalion reported and received orders to patrol the woods to "B" Troop's rear and then to support "B" Troop's line.  When this officers Company arrived and hour later, the penetration had been sealed off but the company completed its mission.  At 1100 hours the commanding Officer of Company "A", 10th Tank Battalion arrived with one platoon of his tanks.  He was met by the Squadron Commander, who ordered the tanks into reserve since, by now, the penetration had been sealed off.
 
At 1700 hours, in the gathering dusk, the enemy made his final daylight effort when he came in battalion strength, out of Imgenbroich, through the hedgerows which did not quite conceal what he thought was a covered approach.  A Forward Observer of the 186th Field Artillery Battalion saw the target and brought down the full power of his 155mm battalion on it.  The attack was completely broken up.
 
Captain William J. Buenzle in the white jacket in the Monschau arera.  The men with him are all from "A" Troop 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
 
The enemy tried again.  At 2200 hours, a "C" Troop advanced listening post picked up a large force advancing down the snake road.  Illuminating shells were thrown up by "C" Troop's 60mm mortars and the attacking force of an estimated 200 was cut to pieces by machine gun fire and artillery fire of "E" Troop and the 62nd Field Artillery Battalion.  A half hour later, "B" Troop's outposts heard movement in the Stillbusch draw.  Illuminating shells were again fired and 100 enemy, were estimated to be in this force.  This time, fire from "E" Troop broke up the attack.
 
Meanwhile, the 47th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Division had come into assembly area west of Mutzenich at 1700 hours, thus assuring the stabilization of the situation.
 

The next day, the enemy struck again in Regimental strength against the 3rd Battalion 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division, defending the Hofen Hill on the right.  The attack almost succeeded but was beaten off when the infantry called down artillery fire on their own positions.  Sergeant Poll. "C" Troop, distinguished himself in this defense by holding a sector of the infantry line with his liaison armored car and by bringing down artillery fire on targets to his front.  Other assistance was rendered the hard-pressed infantry, by our Forward Observer’s, in the "C" Troop trenches, who brought down concentrations from the supporting artillery and "E" Troop on the attacking Germans.

 
 

With the arrival of the 47th Infantry Regiment, the situation became stabilized. The front of the Squadron was cut down when the 47th Infantry relieved "C" Troop and that part of "F" Company on Monschau.  With the shortened front, the Squadron spent the remainder of the month and up until January 6th, attached to the 60th Infantry Regiment, perfecting the defenses in its sector.  70 truckloads of concertina wire were put out and defensive fires were registered that covered the entire front.  However, the new line was never attacked, the enemy being given a sound beating in the Ardennes.

 
This vitally important defensive engagement was successful, due to the coolness, devotion to duty and teamwork of a large number.  This fact, was recognized by the Army Commander when he approved the issuance of the Distinguished Unit Citation.
 

Source:Bulge Bugle, August 2002

By Major Charles E. ROUSEK

38th Cavalry Reconnaissance

Squadron

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium