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November 2019
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US Army

Along the Sure River Front

Along the Sure River Front
 
After four weeks of constant attacks against a well entrenched enemy in the Hurtgen Forest, the 4th Infantry Division was in dire straits.  I mention this because I am convinced the Germans used this delaying action to “set-up“ the forthcoming Battle of the Bulge!  Some of our most experienced infantry divisions, including the 4th, 28th and 9th, were depleted by second line enemy units ( mainly German allies such as Hungarian and Romanian ) who in well-developed defenses and in horrible weather conditions made the advancing American forces pay a heavy price for every yard gained! By December 4th we were no longer a viable fighting force.
 
Headquarters recognized this and on December 5th pulled the 4th Division from action and sent it to Luxembourg for refit.  Under the assumption that the war was in its final stage and that the German Army on the western front was incapable of mounting any serious threat, this was done in a leisurely fashion.  The 12th Regiment, which I was assigned to, was posted north of Luxembourg City along the Sure and Mosel Rivers. 
 
The north and east banks of these rivers were part of the famed Siegfried defense line!  I was with “F” Company at Berdorf on December 16th when our morning patrol reported heavy enemy presence on our side of the Sure River.  A mixed bag of infantry, heavy weapons and forward observer specialists made up our twenty-four man unit quartered in a large farm complex.  We were ill prepared for any form of major defensive action since most of our supporting artillery and armored units had much of their equipment in maintenance or scheduled for replacement?  However, we did have fairly potent infantry capability consisting of three mortars, several water cooled 30 caliber machine guns, one 50 cal. Machine gun (jeep mounted), several BARs and a mixture of rifles and grenades. 
 
Our situation was further complicated by a very limited supply of ammunition and radios that had been so damaged by the wet conditions in the Hurtgen Forest that they were all but useless.  This left us with only portable communication equipment with a maximum range of a few kilometers!  All our other outposts were beyond this range since “F” company was responsible for about five/six kilometers of front?  This was equivalent to what an entire division would normally control! 
 
The Germans had intentionally kept the front quiet by not sending patrols to our side of the river (heavy snow cover would show their tracks) and by lightly manning the Siegfried fortifications.  Thus when they hit us at dawn on the 16th of December we had to quickly react to keep from being overrun.  Here our experienced infantry cadre saved us from being overwhelmed!  Like all seasoned units they had prepared for the unexpected.  An MLR had been set using the outer wall surrounding the farm buildings and positions on the upper floors of the house and barn.  Here riflemen supplemented our strategically located machine guns, BARs and mortars.  When the enemy forces advanced through the cultivated fields surrounding the farm complex they were devoid of most cover except for a few apple trees. I was on the second floor of the house with a clear field of fire on both the north and east sides of the MLR. When the enemy advanced reached within approximately 200 yards of our position the order was given to open fire! 
 
The heavy volume of fire must have shocked the enemy?  I’m sure they only expected light resistance. Here their lack of information (no recent patrols) on our strength put them at a temporary disadvantage.  They reeled back, then showing they were experienced troops, quickly recovered, and taking their casualties along, they fled back to the safety of the forest! During the remainder of the day, the enemy probed our position several times to ascertain our strength.  Each time we easily repulsed their advances.  We had one meaningful encounter when oddly enough nearby enemy fire, on our west flank, seemed directed away from our position.  Years later I learned this was a result of one of our patrols, under the command of Sergeant Potts, trying to take haven with us!  Luckily they changed course and made it back to “F” Company HQ and eventual freedom.
 
Finally, about 3:00 PM, two German officers appeared, under a white flag, at the edge of the forest.  We replied with a similar party outside the compound gate.  After a parlay, our reps returned with the ultimatum to surrender or have our position destroyed by artillery fire.  To emphasize their point several halftracks, armed with high velocity 75 mm cannon, were stationed on the main road about a half mile from the farm!  We had hoped to maintain our position until dark (about 4:00 PM) then attempt to escape in small groups to safety?  With our ammunition almost gone, and with the knowledge of how destructive enemy artillery was, we knew our fate was sealed.  After destroying our weapons, and burying any “loot”, we marched into captivity!
 
Were we victims of poor command decisions?  I choose to believe the Hurtgen was a major snafu that set-up the Bulge and caused many more casualties than if the half dozen divisions decimated there had been at full strength during the Bulge!
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle February 2013

By Pfc Arthur SCHRECKENGOST

 

"F" Company

12th Infantry Regiment

4th Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium