Timeframe: 12/6/1944 - 12/15/1944
The Bergstein Campaign
Lt Col Rudder departed for FUSA, as directed, at 0700, 6 December. During the morning, several Staff officers conducted route reconnaissance to Brandenberg; visiting the CP's of the units holding Hurtgen and Kleinhau to gain the latest situation report, this party returned at 1145 with the acquired information. Meanwhile, the troops were being oriented as to the situation on the Division front by the Assistant S-3. At 1410, a high-velocity round struck a tree under which one platoon/Company C was being briefed. This tree-burst inflicted thirteen casualties, two of which were fatal. At 1705, the following "URGENT" message was received from the CO/28th Infantry Regiment:
"Battalion alerted for movement to Bergstein".
At 1710, the Companies and transportation having been alerted, the - Battalion Executive and S-2 departed for the 8th Division Forward for information. Returning at 2110, the Executive issued the following oral F0:
"The Battalion is to move to Bergstein with the mission of securing the town and taking the hill to the East. Companies A/B/C will go into defensive positions in Bergstein and Companies D/E/F will take and hold Hill Four-hundred. Positions for A/B/C are as follows:
F0/56th Armd FA Em will accompany Force Slater; support for Companies A/B/C will be furnished by FO/5th Armd Div thru Battalion Communications channels. Two platoons /C/893rd TD Bn will become available at 070600. SCR 300 will be supplanted by wire as soon as possible. Medical evacuation will be thru the 121st Infantry.
Colonel Rudder returned at 2121 and was informed as to the situation. The Executive was promoted to Major at 2227. All available information was distributed to the Company Commanders who in turn passed this on to their troops. The trucks of the 445th AAA Bn caused considerable difficulty as they, being well dispersed against possible strafing attack, had trouble pulling onto the road this moon-less night. Just as the troops started to entruck at 2231, one of the kitchens burst into flame but the expected artillery failed to materialize. The Advance Party moved out by motor at 2255; the troop convoy moved out shortly thereafter.
Blackout lights were switched off as the convoy neared the end of the Hurtgen Forest and the remainder of the trip was uneventful until the lead vehicle became mired in a shell hole just before Brandenberg. Colonel Rudder, Major Williams, and Captain Cook proceeded on foot to the 47th AIB CP located in Brandenberg; here, the CO/CCR/5th Armd Division oriented the party as to the current situation. Attempts to extricate the lead vehicle led to enemy AT fire hitting the nearby road junction; no casualties were reported. The S-2 returned to bring up the Advance Party on foot, telling the drivers to follow with their vehicles as soon as they had made their way around the mired vehicle. The FO/56th Armd FA was contacted at the RJ at this time.
At 0005, 7 December, Colonel Rudder turned the command of the Battalion over to Major George S. Williams; Colonel Rudder had been placed in command of the 109th Infantry on orders of CG FUSA. Major Williams had assumed the duties of Battalion Executive on 9 October 1944; prior to that date, the Major had been Battalion S-4. The Command Group vehicles closed into Brandenberg at 0035 and were dispersed. The Advance Group was then guided on foot to Bergstein where the only CP facilities were in the already over-crowded CP of Company A/lOth Tank Battalion. The Battalion Staff worked in coordination with the CO/A/lOth Tank Bn while the greater part of the installations were dispersed above ground. The Battalion S-3 departed to contact the front-line unit on the East limits of Bergstein; Company C/lOth Tank Bn, returning at 0230.
The troops, arriving in the Kleinhau area without incident, detrucked and moved on foot to Bergstein with Company A, leading, arriving at 0230. No casualties were suffered during the foot movement although harassing artillery forced the troops to hit the ditches many times on the way up.
The CO's/Companies A/B/C received final briefing at 0245 and proceeded to their respective areas without the promised guides. Companies D/E/F were held on the road pending the return of Captain Slater who was again on forward reconnaissance. The CO's/companies D/E/F arrived at the CP at 0335 and, when the prolonged absence of Captain Slater indicated the possibility of his becoming a casualty, straws were drawn as to which of two possible plans would be used:
A frontal assault over open terrain or a flanking attack which, tho covered, would lead through known mine fields.
Captain Slater, returning at 0515, had determined from his reconnaissance that the frontal approach would offer the test chance of success. A patrol from each Company, D and F were dispatched at 0530 to conduct further reconnaissance. and, at 0540, Companies D/E/F moved out for the LD.
Company A, in position at 0530, occupied a network of former enemy entrenchments in the assigned area. Company B, in position shortly thereafter, having an open field as its assigned area, found it necessary to dig individual foxholes Previous experience had decreed that the men dig in on a line parallel to the front. Eye-witnesses of this action later remarked:
"It was surprising how few casualties we had even though we continually observed shell bursts all around us".
Company C reported, at 0622, that both platoons were in position and that enemy activity had been heard to the South.
In the movement to the selected LD on the East edge of Bergstein, Company E surprised a number of the enemy at breakfast in a Bergstein home. One grenade burst sufficed in taking at 13 prisoners. Companies D/F arrived at the LD without incident, Company D taking up position at the right. Company E moved on order of Captain Slater to the North; one platoon going into defensive position on the left flank while the other was placed in reserve at the selected Forward CP, the church at F-084338.
Line of Departure for the attack on Hill 400. (The houses are all post war)
The two reconnaissance patrols returned at 0705 and reported no contact made with the enemy.
Companies D/F jumped off at 0730, with combat patrols leading. No artillery preparation was used to gain the element of surprise. The troops assaulted the hill at a dead run with the speed of their attack and the intensity of their s/a fire driving the enemy off in disorder. As one participant put it:
"It was one wave of shooting, screaming Rangers".
The enemy protective curtain of mortar and artillery fire, when it came, fell to the rear of the swiftly moving Companies. The enemy defenses which attempted to hold the attack of Company F was soon shattered when:
"Captain Masny (the Company Commander of Company F) put his big foot against the pillbox door, broke it down, threw in one grenade, and out came twelve prisoners".
Company D, advancing in the zone already cleared by the combat patrol, had the first element of the main body over the hill and almost to the Roer River when orders were received to dig in on the hill-top. The troops, starting to dig in at 0835, had difficulty working with the frozen, rocky ground and the holes were just beginning to take shape when the enemy artillery fire shifted to the hill-top.