The 44th was called to relieve two divisions in the vicinity of Sarrguemines France, in late December 1944, that they might be employed in Patton's Third Army counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. The consequence: A dangerously over-extended defensive front. At this time, the highly mobile 44th Cavalry Recon Troop served as a rear guard to protect the division from a surprise attack and buy time for the preparation of defensive positions.
"Rear Guard Action on the French German Border December 23 - 25, 1944"
Author - Harry Murray Brammer Jr.
1st Platoon - 44th Cavalry Recon. Troop, 44th I.D.
"...on December 23, 1944 we pulled into the town of Niedergailbach, Germany, which was the first village across the French - German border. All that night troops and equipment moved back where we had come from. Long Tom artillery moved out of there, I remember, that's a 155 rifle which has 6 or 8 rubber tires on it and pulled by a prime mover which is almost like a tank. The next morning at dawn here we were - we were it. Everybody else had left. What our mission was that we were to fight a rear guard action while our division built a defensive line about five miles behind us. The ground was frozen so naturally it would be difficult to dig a foxhole or a slit trench. So the engineers, I heard, were going around with small charges and would set these small charges, to break up the ground, the frozen parts, so the Infantrymen could dig their holes. They were digging in a defensive position about five miles behind us. Our mission was a rear guard action, and we were to defend this position until the rest of our Division were able to dig in. All during the next three days, I never saw any members of the 2nd or 3rd Platoon which were to our right, or southeast of us.
The 1st Platoon moved in to the following towns: Gersheim, Nalsheia, and Medelsheim. Our Platoon CP was in Niedergailbach. Another village just northeast of us was Reinheim, but none of our Platoon ever moved into there. I was in Niedergailbach. The first day I rode down with somebody in a jeep to Reinheim which was probably a mile or a mile and a half from Niedergailbach. I remember going into a house there, and when I get in there, one room was completely full of American artillery shells and hand grenades and artillery aiming stakes which are red and white. The 87th Division, or whatever unit it was had withdrawn out of there and had left this ammunition. I didn't know what to do with it. I reported it to my Lieutenant, but he didn't know what to do with it either. I even thought to myself of setting a booby trap, firing a hand grenade, pulling the pin, and putting it in a box, and when they'd open the door, it would explode. But I decided against it because I didn't know if friendly troops might be going in there. I remember there was one little bridge that had been blown there so we had to ford a little creek. So I went back to Niedergailbach. Right on the edge of the town was a cemetery which had a wall around it. In Europe, all the cemeteries, in France, Germany, and Austria had brick or stone walls around them. We used this as our OPLR (Out Pest Line of Resistance). We had one of our armored cars up there and at least one jeep with a 50 caliber machine gun and 30 caliber machine gun on it. I remember vaguely who was back in Niedergailbach. There was the Lieutenant and Ray Longewa. Joe Doshier, and Johnnie Mamola. Those were the ones I remember for sure. There were just 5 or 6 of our 28 to 29 men in the Platoon. That afternoon of December 24, we could see that the Germans had moved in to Reinheim. They were digging in, and we could hear the sounds of the shovels and picks digging foxholes, etc. We had an Artillery Lt. from our Division Artillery with us at this time. He and Lt. Stanley directed artillery fire from this outpost behind the cemetery walls into the German village of Reinheim. They shelled the area where we heard the Krauts were digging in.
In the town of Gersheim, Sgt. Walter Stines was there with two jeeps plus he had a Sergeant and a Radio Operator from our Cannon Company of one of our Regiments. They went into this house, backed both of their jeeps inside the doors (and as I may have mentioned before, the houses in that part of France and Germany, the house is on one site, next is the garage, next on the bottom is the barn where the cattle are housed and milked and up above that would be the haymow). And they backed their jeeps into the garage part of the farmhouse in this little village of Gersheim and pointed the vehicles out so they could drive out fast, not to back out, but head out first. They never left the house from the time they first arrived until the time they left on the afternoon of December 25th. Finally, what forced then to leave — down the road here came a whole column of German Infantry, advancing down the road moving into a combat attack. The Cannon Company had been shelling the area prior to this, but knew they were making their main attack. And they walked right up close to the house. They pulled out with their jeeps when the Germans were practically on top of them. When they pulled out, they started shooting at then and mowed 'em down. Sgt. Stines told me later that when a 50 caliber bullet hit a German, it flipped him three or four feet in the air because the slug of a 50 caliber is almost as big as your little finger and about 2/3 as long. Then they withdrew back to Niedergailbach where we were. The other parts of the Platoon also came back that day. We were all back together on Dec. 25th. But I remember the previous night on guard duty at Niedergailbach. We were on guard duty outside the front door at this little house, the first house inside the border in Germany. We were two hours on then two hours off guard duty. We really didn't get much sleep. I think if the Germans would have sent in a strong combat patrol on that night, they might have had us because we were scattered all over these three villages. Now this was the night of December 24. So on December 25, everybody had withdrawn back to Niedergailbach, and the Germans were getting closer. Finally they were almost at the house where the whole Platoon was. Also on Dec. 24th, John Mamola, Ray Longawa, Joe Doshier, and I were on the outpost there at Niedergailbach next to the cemetery. That time we didn't have an armored car with us, just a jeep with the machine guns. And up the hill from us, about 300 yards, straight to our left, two Germans walked up, set up a machine gun, and looked straight ahead. It was at an angle to us. Johnnie Mamola had gotten some binoculars out of a German tank. He had them with him, and they were very powerful. We used them to look at these two Germans. We could see them so close, we could almost see the pimples and blackheads on their faces. But all the time they were up there, not once did they ever turn their heads and look to the left towards us. I don't know if they saw us or not, but they certainly didn't act like it. So we got a hold of Lt. Stanley and told him we had spotted two Germans moving up and setting up a machine gun on our left flank, and he came over and observed what we had spotted. He didn't give any orders so Brammer decided to come up with a suggestion. I said, 'Lieutenant, let me set up our 81 mm mortar behind that hill over here, and let's blast them out of their machine gun nest.' He thought for awhile, but he didn't think too long. He said, 'O.K., Brammer, you guys go set up your mortar and blast them out.' So Joe Doshier, myself, and Ray Longawa set up the gun. Ray Longawa served as the observer, Joe Doshier as the Gunner, and I was going to be the Assistant Gunner dropping the shells in the tube. I remember I had either a smoke shell or a phosphorous shell I was going to drop first so it would illuminate and give us a better view of where our shells were landing. The box had gotten wet, and I couldn't get the shell out of the box. I started tearing it up piece by piece, but I never did fire that shell. So then we started shooting. The first shell lit just behind. where the Germans had set up their guns. Ray Longawa told Joe to move it 10 mils to the left, well, that's typical of an inexperienced mortarman, he turned the dial the wrong way. When you turned
|The 44th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop even had their own song:|
"Oh, we're the suicide unit of the fighting 44th
First to sight the enemy and strike with lighting force
With eyes of an eagle; we watch his every move
Report it to the proper ones; the enemy is through.
Oh, we never get much glory
But we know right from wrong
We fight so Old Glory will wave forever on
We fight for the land we all adore
The Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop of the fighting 44th"
|The highly mobile recon troops employed the M8 Armored Car and jeeps. The M8 'Grayhound' carried one turret mounted 37 mm cannon and a 30 cal. coaxial machine gun. Later a 50 cal. AA machine gun was mounted on a ring mount in the turret. The M8 was rated to withstand 50 cal. machine gun on the front and on the turret. The scout jeeps had pedestal mounted 30 or 50 cal. machine guns or both, as in the picture above|
the dial, it would go in the opposite direction of what you assumed it would be. But then you would move the gun back on the aiming stake. Well, he made the mistake of an inexperienced mortarman by turning it the wrong way, and then we dropped some more shells. Then he turned it again, and he continued to turn it the wrong way. But we never were fired upon by the Germans, and they withdrew. We never saw the guys up on the hill, so at least we succeeded. Lt. Stanley later on said Joe Doshier, Ray Longawa, and Platoon Sgt. Norman Walt and myself were in that jeep. We pulled back into that town and the first thing we did was to take the anti-tank mines off the sides of the armored cars and laid them on the road.
We didn't have time to dig holes and bury them, but we armed the mines and set them on the road. And shortly after that it was dusk, but I'll never forget when we withdrew to Obergailbach. I saw what had happened when an enemy moves into a town or is threatening it. The civilians immediately started evacuating the houses, taking what belongings they could carry, and headed out, especially the men. I know the whole village evacuated. There were probably only 25 to 30 houses in this little village of Obergailbach. We stayed there the rest of that afternoon and evening, and up until about midnight, and we finally got orders to withdraw. The Germans did not attack us in Obergailbach. We finally withdrew back into our lines. I was never so happy to get back into the main lines. When we passed along, I said to the first infantryman I saw, 'Thank God, we're back!' I had no idea how far we were out, but we were out about five miles. In combat, that's quite away to go. I mentioned before the distances from village to village I thought might be ten miles but timed out to be two or three. We moved slowly because most of the time we were in 'no man's land' either under fire or moving very slowly so that the enemy wouldn't attack or ambush us.
When we withdrew from Obergailbach, we came back to an intersection which would have led right into a place called Moronville Farm, which was sort of like a farm co-op, which later on became a tremendous battle area. Then we went back to another one called Brandelfingerhof Farm, and also we passed by a little village of Woefling le Saarguemine into Wiesviller. There we stayed in Wiesviller. I remember in particular the first night in Wiesviller. The Germans shelled us most of the night. I remember I went down to the cellar to the deepest spot I could find, and I slept on a wine cask that night, and I remember when I get up the next morning, my back felt like it was U-shaped like a wine cask. During that night, about two or three o'clock in the morning, I happened to be on guard duty, and I remember the radio operator who was sitting in front of the building in one of our armored cars, because we always had one armored car always operating, the engine running for radio communications. Across the street from us that night was the 3rd Platoon, commanded by Lt. Ray Vogt. They went out on patrol that night, and naturally, I didn't know where they were going. But later on, I found out. When they approached the town of Gros-Rederching, the 2nd French Armored Division had been in there, but they had been driven out. That's why we sent this patrol out because the Division had lost contact with the 2nd French Armored Division in Gros-Rederching, and they sent the 3rd Platoon out to find out what hat happened to them. And when they approached the towns, the Germans had taken one of these road block things (boards you put together on an ‘X’) and had wrapped barbed wire around it. The first jeep of three men approached this barrier and lifted it up and took it off the road and got it out of the way. And when they did, all three of them were captured by the Krauts. The names of the three men were Harvey Hansen, John Nelcarp, and Jack Pakula. Anyways these men were all killed. The next day, our division retook the town and found the three men in front of a wall all dead. The Germans paid for this. They paid for it dearly.
While this incident was going on in Gros-Rederching, I was back in Wiesviller. And as I mentioned before, that night the Germans had shelled the town very heavily. In fact, they hit the house next to where I was. It snowed quite a bit that night, and the streets were very slick. In fact, the Sherman tanks that had rubber cleats couldn't get up the hill. I remember they were trying to get up some slight hills in Wiesviller, and they couldn't make it. The tanks that had steel tracks could make it through. I went on patrol, on up to the front lines, which was just up the road a mile or two from Wiesviller, and I went into a Regimental Battalion CP, and while I was in there, here was an American Medic sitting there on the floor. His only identification was that his steel helmet was painted white with a red cross in the front and back, and he also wore a white armband with a red cross on it on his left arm. The German Medics wore a sheet covering the front and back like the highway workers do today (but they're orange), but this was white and had a big red cross on the front and the back, so you couldn't mistake them for being a medic. You know from the Geneva Convention, you don't shoot a medic. Here was this medic in my Division sitting on the floor with a beautiful bullet hole right in the center of the red cross, and it went right through the center and up through the top of his steel helmet. I said to this guy, and he showed no signs of being wounded 'Were you wearing that steel helmet when somebody shot it?' He said, 'I certainly was!' I said, 'You certainly were a lucky guy!' 'That's for sure!' I could just tell that this man had not recovered from the shock of almost being shot in the head and killed.
Just another incident of the horrors of war and the rotten Krauts."