C Company, 22nd Infantry Regiment, (4th Inf. Div.)
16 Nov. - 3 Dec. 1944
DECLASSIFIED - Authority NND735017
Lt Frederick Sweeney, Exec. O. and CO
S/Sgt. Michael Fatich, plat, sgt., 1st plat.
S/Sgt. Berla L. Childers, plat Sgt., 2nd plat.
S/Sgt. Charges C. Monroe, plat. Sgt. 3d. plat.
S/Sgt. Louis Pingatore, plat. sgt., weapons plat.
Pvt. Erwin Grabowski, Company C runner (replacement)
Pvt. Forrest Casteel, Company C runner (replacement)
T/5. Clifford Whitaker, 3d plat. rifleman.
Vic. Gostingen, Luxembourg, 15-16 December 1944; interviews by Capt. K.W. Hechler 2d Info & Hist Sv. (VIII Corps).
C Company started out this campaign with an effective strength of 145 men. On 3 December, after being relieved, the company had 19 of these original men left.
During the first two days of the operation, the company was in a reserve position and followed the other two companies of the 1st Bn.
16 November 1944
Commencing at 1430, the company moved in a column of platoons from the assembly area vicinity (953353), where they had been since 10 November, northeastward up a draw to the vicinity of (004379). The plan was to have C Company advance behind and in close touch with the other companies of the battalion, and be prepared to protect the battalion's right flank if necessary. At the end of the day, C Company was echeloned to the left rear of A and B Companies. Despite being in reserve on both the 16th and 17th, C Company suffered 16 casualties on the 16th and 9 casualties on the 17th, from mortar and artillery fire which was covering the draw. The enemy had a liberal number of forward observers placed at the high points overlooking the draw, and although the pine trees limited vision, these observers could pick up movement and direct fire effectively on a reserve company without endangering German front-line troops.
17 November 1944
C Company did not participate in the attack, but was ordered to place its left flank in contact with A. Company and to try and maintain contact with the left flank of the 2nd battalion. The contact with the battalion was established only by patrols, however. The 2nd battalion left flank did not extend north of a line running from (015380) east to (018380).
18 November 1944
C Company attacked on the right flank A Company due east across the north-south road, with the east-west firebreak being the axis of advance and company boundary. Small-arms opposition was slight and scattered, but Lt Sweeny describes the artillery and mortar fire as "three tines as heavy as any this company has ever encountered". The main concentrations were interdicting the east-west road on the right flank of the company, and the crossroads at (021384) was being subjected to continuous interdictory fire even more frequently. This caused the company to veer its course slightly northward and they kept the right flank at least 100 yards away from this road. Enemy shell fire caused most of the company's 27 casualties that day; the severest losses from the standpoint of the company efficiency came when a 120mm. mortar shell hit the company CP just before dark. Lt Sweeney, the company executive officer, was out of the CP checking communications at the time, and he, along with the communications sergeant, Sgt. James Coughlin, and Pfc. Reuben Kleidman (runner) were the only survivors in the whole company headquarters. (1)
The enemy did not attempt to defend the north-south road or a small stream, waist deep and 9 feet wide, just to the east of the road, which Company C waded across. The advance was made in a column of platoons along a narrow 100-yard front, with the men listening for the whistle of freight train clicking of shells, rather than stalking snipers or crawling up on machine runs. One man compared this advance to a grim game of musical chairs, with everybody tensely watching for a possible hole into which
to dive while they had one ear cocked to the sound of the shells. The advance was made at a slow walk, with the men trying to stay far enough apart to avoid too many casualties from one shell, and close enough to maintain contact; the compromise was reached at five yards.
Our own artillery barrage on 18 November, a rolling barrage which proceeded C Company up the north-south firebreak, was very effective in reducing enemy infantry opposition. "They were pretty poor infantrymen anyhow," Lt Sweeney said. "Up until the
time we hit their strong points just west of Grosshau, the infantry
was poor. They ranged in age from 15 to 59, and did not resist very
strongly once we came up on them.
One old boy had a black patch over his eye like a pirate; others were young and scared, and shook when they gave up. After we started attacking Grosshau we met a much higher quality of troops-- fighters between 20 - 24-- but before that it was the excellent enemy artillery and mortar fire that bothered us the most.” The others in the company agreed with Lt. Sweeney on the greenness of the enemy infantry. On the 18 November attack two enemy infantrymen were killed by our advancing troops as they sauntered unconcernedly in a westerly direction along the east-west road on the right flank of C Company.
The only other suggestion of small-arms opposition received on 18 November I was eliminated by the company commander, Capt. Edward W. Martin. As usual Capt. Martin was out pointing the advance of his company in front of the first scout; he knew it was strictly not according to the book, but was too restless a personality to remain in a "command position" for very long. About 100 yards southwest of the junction of the firebreaks at (029388), Capt. Martin discovered an enemy mortar observer protected by two riflemen; there was also an enemy machine gun emplaced but no additional crew to man it. Firing quickly, Capt. Martin killed one of the three, wounded a second, and took the third man prisoner; he received fire but was uninjured. This incident was typical of the performance of the enemy infantry throughout the operation -- their local security was either inadequate or not alert, their fire was inaccurate, and they surrendered or faded back when contact was established. The mortar observer captured by Capt. Martin was typical of many of the infantrymen whom the enemy had in the line: he was aged 43, potbellied, and possessed only two or three tobacco-colored teeth.
The total advance of C Company on Nov 18 was 1000 yards, along the general line of the north-south firebreak. When the 120mm. mortar shell hit the company CP, it naturally caused a turmoil in the organization of the company. Communications were cut, no commander was present, no individuals were available to operate an SCR-300. Lt Sweeney, who assumed command of the company after his return, tried unsuccessfully to mobilize personnel to reestablish communications. "It is my conclusion that there should be trained communications personnel spread throughout the company and not alone in company headquarters," Lt. Sweeney said. "We were crippled by one mortar shell, and all wire and radio men who knew anything were put out of action by being in the same place".
(1) Two days later both Sgt. Coughlin and Pfc. Kleidman were evacuated for combat exhaustion, leaving Lt. Sweeney the only original officer or man in company headquarters.
19 November 1944
On 19 November, C Company held in position and beat off a small night counterattack.
20 November 1944
The company resumed the offensive on 20 November, on the right
flank of A. Company and the left flank of the 2nd battalion, toward
the area of the horseshoe turn at (033385). The advance was with
platoons abreast, and the 3rd platoon, which had been almost wiped
out by the artillery fire of the 18th, was in reserve. The initial
objective was a crossing of the north-south firebreak, after which
the company was to advance eastward toward the line running north
from the horseshoe turn. The usual artillery and mortar opposition
was encountered in crossing the firebreak, and the company started
to dig in on the east side of the break. The fields of fire were
poor, as was the visibility toward the enemy positions. Two enemy
machine gun 34s started to fire into the right flank of C Company
from the east-west road, but they were knocked out by rifle fire.
Opposition was still not very determined when S/Sgt. Berla L. Childers, platoon sergeant of the second platoon, started to move his platoon forward in a skirmish line. "We had no special tactics designed for this operation", Lt. Sweeney explained, "because we did not know what the enemy had. The men, particularly the 2nd platoon, developed their tactics of advance on the spot". The skirmish line advanced at a slow walk, and very cautiously. Light machine guns were up on the line, while a pair of heavy machine guns and a pair of BARs were on each flank, 25-50 yards behind the line of advance. The first indication of the existence of an enemy strongpoint came when Pvt. Harvey St .Pierre, 1st scout of the 2nd platoon, spied a wounded German captain walking up, evidently toward his own aid station. Pvt. St. Pierre had against advice of his platoon sergeant, walked out 50 yards in advance of the assault line. The German captain shot St. Pierre in the temple, but St .Pierre' s return shot killed the captain.
German dugout at the horseshoe turn.
"I then discovered that the Jerries had a
strong point along the road near the horseshoe turn", said Sgt.
Childers. "It consisted of six or seven bunkers, covered with
several feet of logs and dirt. The bunkers were well camouflaged and
could never have been picked up from the air. They were built for
three or four men, with the exception of the aid station and command
post, which were in effect dug-in log huts. They had excellent
overhead cover which would protect against all but a direct hit by
artillery. However their defect was that the firing embrasures were
all pointing south and southwest down the road toward which they
expected out approach. We fooled them by using the first squad of
the second platoon to fire at the embrasures, and than using most of
the 1st and 3d platoons to wheel around to the north and approach
these bunkers from their blind sides. Of course they could still
fire at us from their foxholes and zigzag communications trenches
around the bunkers, but they soon got discouraged when we started to
fire all our weapons at once. T/Sgt. Richard Mulligan knelt down to
load his M1 and suddenly saw two Jerries out of the corner of his
eye in a trench right by his knee. For a second, everybody wondered
who was going to pass out first, but Sgt. Mulligan quickly got
control of the situation and took them prisoner. Very few of them
would resist, and the small-arms fire of the enemy was light and
scattered. Finally, we all rose up in a skirmish line and made the
final advance at a steady walking pace, firing from the hip. It was
just like the movies."
Most of the C Company men fell that the enemy could have defended this position more strongly than they did. When the strongpoint fell, our troops captured 50 cases of hand grenades, mortar and machine gun ammunition; 100 entrenching tools; barbed wire which had not been put to use; bazookas and bazooka ammunition. "If they had really used smart tactics and all of their supplies, it would have taken a regiment to crack that point", Lt Sweeney feels. "As it was, their fortifications were not only weak, but their local security was again asleep."
C Company suffered 10 casualties on November 20 in advancing toward and reducing this strongpoint. 50 prisoners were taken, nearly all of them from in an around the locality of the bunkers, where the enemy had maintained a command post.
21 November 1944
On 21 November, C Company held its positions, and activity for the day was limited to a night patrol which was sent to investigate enemy small-arms fire coming between the 2nd battalion (on the right flank) and C Company. Six prisoners were captured and six casualties incurred for the day.
22 November 1944
The front was quiet for C Company on 22 November.
23 November 1944
On the 23rd (Thanksgiving Day) the troops had turkey served. Eight casualties were suffered from the artillery and mortar fire, particularly along the east-west road, where a platoon of C Company was assisting the 4th Engineer Battalion in removing 64 anti-tank mines from the road. Some of these mines were stocked three deep, and booby-trapped.
24 November 1944
There was no action for C Company on 24 November.
25 November 1944
In late afternoon of 25 November, C Company counterattacked to clear the draw on the right flank of the 1st battalion, where the enemy had attacked to seize ground between the 1st and 2d battalions. C Company made a 1000-yard advance, took 3 prisoners, and sustained 16 casualties in the operation, which wan a step-by-step slugfest.
26 November 1944
On 26 November, C Company was assigned the mission of clearing
out the patch of woods just west of Grosshau, in the area between
the 2d and 3d battalions. This was one of the most bitter fights of
the entire forest operation. The jump-off was delayed by the
intensity of enemy artillery fire falling along the road leading
into Grosshau, which was immediately in front of the C Company
positions. The enemy was also delivering considerable overhead
machine gun fire during the morning which led some of the men in the
company feel that the Germans were planning to counterattack that
day. The company was dug in about 600 yards from the enemy positions
in the clump of woods, prior to the jump-off. The 3d platoon built
up a skirmish line and started trying to draw the enemy fire to test
out where the enemy strong points were. Between the edge of the main
woods and the small clump of woods was a piece of open ground 180
yards wide, overgrown with waist-high weeds, and sloping gently
toward the enemy positions. While the men of the 3d platoon were
firing from their skirmish line on the edge of the woods, the other
two platoons were advancing in column across the open space, with
the 1st platoon as the spearhead. The advance started in squad
column formation, with two scouts working their way in the lead, but
all formation was lost after the enemy artillery started dropping in
the open space.
Small-arms resistance was still not very strong as the company crossed this space. One of the replacements, Pvt Forrest Casteel, said; "It was a little hard to figure out, because they could have mowed us down across there if they wanted to. They kept popping out of their holes but didn't seem to want to fight very much until we got into the woods. The ground we crossed was very soft, almost like quicksand, but there seemed to be enough shell holes for everybody to get some protection in between advances.After we had gotten part-way across, some of us were pretty tired, and Capt. Morgan C. Stanford, the company commander, told us to take our packs off so we could advance faster. The artillery was worse than I ever want to see; one hit two feet in front of my hole and broke my rifle butt-plate and ripped my cartridge belt. I saw many others who weren't so lucky. It was the first taste of battle for a huge number of us, and I guess that one day of that is worth an entire shift of basic training."
The replacements hurriedly thrust into this battle of course had no opportunity to train with the company or get to know its commanders and men. "When I get new men in the heat of battle," said S/Sgt. Pingatore, "all I have time to do is to ask them what platoon they are in, impress them that they have to remember their platoon number, and tell them to get into the nearest hole and to move out when the rest of us move out."
Coming through the open field before reaching the woods, Pvt. Earl Haydt stumbled on two Germans in a communications trench, and one of them had a machine gun and the other a machine pistol. Pvt. Haydt pointed his unloaded bazooka tube down toward the trench, and this, with his knowledge threatening German phrases, served to make the two prisoners.
Most of the company advanced to the woods without an unusually high number of casualties. Just inside of the woods, an enemy position manned by approximately 80 imfantrymen was surprized and surrendered without a heavy fire fight. Small groups of men then combed the woods and mopped up all evident resistance, killing about 20 of the enemy. The company had just started to reorganize and outpost the woods at about 1600, when enemy machine guns started to sweep the company's positions from outside the woods. Three of these guns were firing into the company's right rear, and the right flank of the company pulled back about 100 yards so it could build up a line facing the machine guns. Two small patrols were dispatched, one to the left and one to the right flank of the machine guns. The left flank patrol was led by Pvt. Robert S. McAtee, who crawled up with a heavy machine gun from D Company and single-handedly killed four Germans and forced the surrender of two more, capturing the three guns. While this skirmish was going on, another machine gun position suddenly became active at the point (048379), This gun also had excellent fields of fire from the outside of the woods into the American positions which had been set up inside the patch of woods. This gun was flanked by a group consisting of S/Sgt. Richard Pierce, S/Sgt. Charles Monroe, S/Sgt. Louis Pingatore, S/Sgt, Berla L. Childers, T/5 Anthony Meno, and Pfc. James Jones. This group captured the gun by keeping a steady volume of fire directed at the spot while everybody crawled up on it simultaneously. Four riflemen and three machine gunners gave up when the attackers had come within three feet of their position; two of the enemy gunners had been wounded in the skirmish. After C Company had reduced the small-arms fire opposition in and on the edge of the woods, an enemy Mark IV tank started to fire point blank into the woods from the western edge of Grosshau. The tank was firing at a range of scarcely more than 75 yards, and it could not be located. Enemy infantry seemed to be forming for a counter attack, but the main opposition came from the tank. C Company's line bent, and the company fell back approximately 500 yards out of the clump of woods they had captured and back across the open space into the main woods. The total casualties for the day were 39.
27 -28 - 29 - 30 November 1944
During the next four days, C Company held in position.
1 December 1944
On 1 December C Company moved up north of Grosshau to attack across open ground into the woods east of the town. The attack was launched from the edge of the woods at (061388) southeast across 250 yards of open ground and into the woods southwest of the towns of Gey and Strass. The plan was for C Company to drive a wedge into these woods, which A and B would assist in exploiting in column of companies. After the wedge had been driven, A Company was directed to turn right (southeast), while B on the left and C on the right would advance abreast in a northeasterly direction. According to all of the men, this attack clicked perfectly, and the coordination between companies was timed well. The small-arms opposition was more determined, and the artillery and mortar fire not quite as strong as had been experienced in the campaign up to Grosshau. Nevertheless, a bag of 60 prisoners was captured, and only 17 casualties were suffered in making the 800 yard advance to a line in the vicinity of (068388).
2 December 1944
C Company had no unusual activity on 2 December.
3 December 1944
On 3 December, the Germans launched a strong counterattack against the 3d battalion, part of which bent the left flank of B Company on C Company's left. A group of ten men from C Company, under the command of S/Sgt. Louis Pingatore, were rushed over to the B Company sector, where they succeeded in checking the counterattack and paving the way for the restoration of the line of farthest advance which B Company had established. In the afternoon of 3 December, C Company was relieved by elements of the 330 Infantry Regiment of the 83 Division. (2)
(2) See account of B Company, 22nd Inf. Regt. for details on the small task force which assisted in repelling the counter attack of 3 December.
Many thanks to John R. Tomawski for providing me a bunch of documents from the National Archives.