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324ème régiment d'infanterie américaine - 1944 Texte en langue anglaise

Combat history of the 324th Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division


The Germans starred November with a barrage of propaganda beamed towards the front lines with loudspeakers.
"Hello men of the 44th," they said. "Thanks for relieving the men of the 79th Division. This is going to be a bloody mess. The men who are wounded are the only happy ones. Come over with your hands raised, under a white flag. We know you have been in the lines two weeks. We know you came over on the U.S.S. Gordon. The 79th is glad to be relieved. Ask your General Spragins about this. He knows. He's in the rear. Ask him. This is going to be a long and bloody war. Come on over and surrender." Yes, they had a pretty good G-2 staff too.
But the mud stained GI's merely laughed, or fired a few mortar shells towards the enemy lines, or just ignored it and went ahead doing their jobs and trying to make themselves more comfortable. The men were getting more used to the rain and cold. They began to find ingenious ways of camouflaging, and reinforcing, and protecting their fox-holes against the elements, as well as against the enemy. They used sticks, wooden boards, tree boughs, bits of tin, burlap, cardboard, and almost anything to build a roof or wall to help keep some precious heat in the damp and muddy foxholes that were their homes. And there are men who are alive today who tell of shells and shrapnel hitting the roofs of their "houses" without harming the men huddled to the cold earth beneath.
Most of the men had little to do except clean their rifles, strengthen or repair their fortifications, pour the water out of their foxholes, and sit and wait for things to happen. Sometimes the GI would leave his foxhole to jump up and down trying to warm up a bit if the enemy shelling wasn't too heavy.
Or he would stay where he was, and wonder if he would ever know again the luxuries of civilian life. A bathroom, hot water, a steam bath, and clean clothes seemed like things out of this world.
Sometimes there were reconnaissance patrols to explore enemy territory and to discover terrain features that lay ahead. Some men would volunteer for this, just to vary the deadly monotony of their existence and to get the chance to move around a bit. Some of these men never came back. Once in a while, enemy combat patrols would attack our outposts, as they did to those of Company F one day at 1815. They made no headway however, and retreated three hours later with no casualties on our side.
And sometimes a few enemy planes would strafe one of the battalions. Usually no damage was done. Occasionally a few men were hit.
All companies were rotated into reserve positions and got a chance to change into dry clothes and to get a hot meal again behind the lines, or maybe write a letter. That helped a lot, mainly because the men were away from the tension of the front lines and could relax for awhile.
There were small line strengthening operations, designed to give us a slightly better position for attack or defense and to straighten out the line. The enemy had the high ground to the regimental left front which he could use as an effective observation post. On the left flank the 121st Cavalry Squadron, aided by combat and contact patrols from the Second Battalion, moved in and occupied the high point.
In addition to the Cavalry, there were the supporting Tank Destroyers of Company B of the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion and Company C of the 749th Tank Battalion.
While waiting for things to happen, and while taking part in these small scale operations, the big picture called for the building up of the line, maneuvering into better positions for attack, reorganizing defense sectors, improving camouflage and defenses against the increasing enemy activity, a sign that Heinie was getting worried about the future.
Patrols of the First Battalion effectively coordinated with an advance by the 71st Infantry on the right were designed to fill in a gap in the lines.
The 71st also relieved Able Company of part of the territory it was holding, allowing more men to be taken off the line for relief and rest.
Engineers and the mine platoon of AT Company had discovered and demined many minefields, thus enabling the 220th Field Artillery, of combat team 324, to assume new positions and give closer support to attacking troops.
Patrolling of enemy territory continued and grew more frequent. The patrols often secured vital information, from prisoners or through observation, which was quickly rushed to higher headquarters. There, plans were being made for the big attack everybody felt was coming. But when ?
November 8 dawned, rainy and wet, making movement almost impossible. The roads were muddy, as well as the fields. But still, three patrols were sent sloshing away into enemy territory to reconnoiter. The next day found little change in the situation. Still the rain and mud, still the patrols, still the lifting of mines, still the strengthening of fortifications, and still the light maneuvering of troops to better and stronger line positions. The 106th Cavalry Squadron relieved the 121st on the left, and advanced to the vicinity of Vaucourt. Meanwhile the artillery kept moving up.
During the next two days troops, fresh out of reserve positions, relieved some of the water-soaked and fatigued GI's who had been holding the line. Company L relieved part of Company В on the battalion's left flank, while elements of the 71st Infantry relieved the balance of the First Battalion. The First Battalion moved into support position for the Third Battalion. Elements of the 114th Infantry relieved the Second Battalion, 324th, and they too moved into reserve. But not for long.
"The 324th Infantry with Company C, 749th Tank Battalion will attack at H-Hour, D-Day in zone in column of Battalions. Control roadnets at Remoncourt and Moussey. Contain enemy forces in Bois de la Garenne mopping up from east and rear with reserve unit. Force Bois de Ketzing on narrow front containing enemy forces north of penetration. Protect Division left flank, destroy bridges across and block crossings of Rhine-Marne Canal west of Gondrexange. After being relieved of left flank protection west of Gondrexange, be prepared to release one battalion to Division control." That was the Regimental order. The 324th Infantry was on the Division's left and to the right was the 71st. On the left were the 106th Cavalry, and one Battalion of the 114th which had relieved 324's Second Battalion in place. The 324th Regiment was to attack in a column of battalions. The Third Battalion was to be in the lead, with the mission of attacking the small woods along the right boundary of the regiment's territory, then moving rapidly northward and eastward to railroad tracks, and then to secure the roadnet to the south and east of Rechicourt, thus controlling the approaches to that city and to the Bois de Ketzing, and denying the enemy the opportunity of occupying in strength, his prepared positions south of Gondrexange.
The First Battalion, close behind was to act as support for the Third Battalion and move upon orders from regiment. Its mission was to assist the leading battalion, should any resistance in strength, larger than anticipated be offered by the enemy. In the event that the Third Battalion would be halted by enemy action, the First Battalion was to bypass such action and proceed with the original mission of the Third Battalion.
The Second Battalion's mission was to move to the northeast upon orders from regiment, and secure the roadnet around Moussey. From these to proceed eastward, capturing the high ground along the south and southwest edges of the Bois de la Garenne and clearing the entire woods of the enemy. It was then to secure the roadnet south and southeast of Le Garde and also all crossings of the Rhine-Marne Canal as far east as Gondrexange, thereby securing the left flank of the Division.
There was the plan, down to the last detail. Each man in every unit knew what he was to do. Every possible bit of knowledge of the enemy's situation was used in formulating the plan. According to the latest information, the enemy to the front was a formidable one for a defending force. The 553rd Division was still the major German force consisting of approximately 1500 men on line with a reserve force of about 650. In addition, the 553rd was possibly supported by some tanks. That was the line-up of the Boche. And the odds in warfare are said to be four to one in favor of a defending force.
So a few things about the enemy were known. But there were many things not known, and about which we could only guess. What was the caliber of the German soldier ? Would he run before the attack ? Or would he make a stand ? Would the enemy counter-attack ? Would he try surprise ? Did he have hidden reinforcements? Does he know of the coming attack? Will he set up an ambush? Will I get out alive, God ? Will I be killed or wounded ? Time alone would tell.
November 13, 1944 - D-Day. The 17 battalions of artillery along the division front had been pounding the Germans all night. The Germans pounded right back. The time was 0655, H-Hour minus five minutes. The men of the second and third platoons of Company L nervously fingered their weapons. They were weighted down by the extra ammunition that had been given them. A few men bitched. To the left was Company I, preparing to advance with Company L. To the immediate rear were K and M Companies in direct support while to the far rear was D, preparing to give long range support to the attacking companies

with their heavy machine guns. Lt. Erick M. Erickson, platoon leader, had just finished a final briefing to his men when an enemy artillery shell hit causing seven casualties. Up ahead with Company L, Captain Anthony Pico, Lieutenant Meyers Satzow, T/Sgt Harold Loder, and T/Sgt Ike Edwards anxiously looked at their watches. Thirty seconds - Fifteen seconds - 0700. H-Hour. The men clambered up and out of their foxholes and started forward into the snow and the fog. The third platoon was on the left, the second on the right. About 250 yards from the line of departure, they were halted and took cover. Where were the machine guns ? To the rear Company D gunners stood helplessly by their guns and peered hopelessly in to the mixture of snow and fog ahead. They could not see ahead. They could not fire. Visibility was so poor that they could hardly make out objects 100 yards away. To fire would be risking the lives of their own men. So Company L moved ahead without the assistance of the masking fire of Company D's guns, while Company I remained pinned down in the positions where they had halted. Snipers and pill-boxes were holding up their advance.
Company L moved to about 2000 yards from the line of departure where they were stopped cold. Before them lay a hedgerow shaped like an upside down L. From somewhere in its depths came the staccato fire of four machine guns in addition to sniper fire. And the pill-boxes that were beyond that kept spouting lead too. The third platoon, moving parallel to the hedgerow, were able to flush the jerries out of some trenches and take over. The second platoon, moving ahead on the right, had only an open field between them and the Germans. There were 30 casualties in 15 minutes. Two platoon leaders were killed instantly. The men either hugged the ground or were shot, their blood spilling over the white snow. Company L was now out on a point. No Medics could reach them. No men could be evacuated. Some of them lay out in the cold, moaning for three days. To the living it seemed hard to believe. Hearing the moans in the winter wind, when only a few months ago they had laughed and talked with those men under a sunny American sky.
Finally Sgt Robert Wilger, Sgt "Skip" Loder, Pfc Anthony Bandych and Pfc John Frankour loaded themselves with grenades and rushed the two machine guns facing them on the left and blew them out of existence. They then found that the long trench behind the hedgerow contained all four machine guns, with an obstruction of earth and small trees in the middle, protecting either half of the trench from observation or fire by the other half. So for two days, Germans occupied one end of the trench and Americans the other. The snow and rain increased. The men could not dig deep foxholes because the walls collapsed or the holes filled with water. They had one to two boxes of K rations per man per day, plus some D bars. These were their emergency rations. No supplies could be brought up. lt was too muddy for tanks. All they, could do for the next three days was wait. The casualties from the enemy and from trenchfoot mounted. Of the 210 men who started with Company L, there were now 42 left able to fight. Rugged ? Yes, they were.
In the meantime Company D had rejoined the rest of the First Battalion which had been ordered to pass by the Third Battalion and assume its mission. However, the First Battalion too was stopped by pill-boxes in the same line as those holding up the Third Battalion right flank; first Company C, then Company A, then Company B, each in turn had been beaten back.
But what of Company I, which had jumped off along side of Company L. What had been happening to them ? Most of the men still alive, think about that jump-off as really starting the day before, because you have to adjust your mind to do a thing before you do it. So they did a lot of thinking before the attack and got themselves ready. In the words of S/Sgt Harvey Fletcher of Company I, this is what happened: "Sunday, November 14, 44 - The snow was still falling. The ground was white, with the exception of black spots. Sunday like any other day held no rest for the men in the foxholes, deep in slush and mud. Our feet were cold and wet, but that didn't seem to bother us that day. We were all thinking about tomorrow, because tomorrow was the day that was to start the drive, a drive that was to take us through the Vosges Mountains, across the snow-covered Alsace plains, and up to the edge of the Rhine River, and Strasbourg... though we didn't know all that for sure, then. The day crawled by. The stillness was nerve wracking. The lull before the storm.
"The snow continued to fall, and the night approached, occasional artillery dropped in to break the eerie stillness that had settled over the front. That night was even worse... waiting, waiting, waiting for the dawn, because at dawn we strike !
"We looked at each other as we waited in our foxholes, wondering if we'd all make it, knowing very well that some of us wouldn't come back. But each man of us felt certain he himself would make it. We checked our rifles time and again during the long night. Nobody could sleep. We checked our ammo. Was six bandeliers enough? Maybe one more wouldn't be too much weight. We were set.
"We pushed off at 0700 on Monday the thirteenth, the snow was knee deep. It was a sharp, brisk morning as we cut through it. Everything was quiet; not a rifle shot; not even the bursts of artillery. But it didn't stay quiet long because on top of that next hill was a Jerry, a pill-box. It was quiet until we were nearly on top of it, then, like the deadly strike of a rattlesnake, it cut loose. Hot lead streamed out in three directions. The men of I Company dropped to their stomachs, buried their faces in the snow. Some never got up again as the snow turned crimson from the blood of a dying Yank.
"The third platoon maneuvered into position along the front of the pill-box. They took up firing positions and returned the fire, while the second and first platoons maneuvered to the left flank along a draw. The second platoon was to move along the left flank into position there while the first was to remain in support to be called upon when needed which was almost immediately. As the second crawled into position to lay down fire, the enemy machine guns laid down grazing fire, pinning the second down like the third. This left only the first to swing around to the extreme left of the second. Lieutenant Peterson led his platoon around in hopes of hitting the Heinie from the rear, but before the platoon had moved a couple of hundred yards, the machine guns had opened up and the entire company was pinned down.
"L Company was on the right flank - we were depending on them. M Company's machine guns joined I Company trying to lay down fire so we could move in closer, but enemy guns again found their marks and our machine guns were idle. A few men in the draw were moving about in an attempt to move on. Captain Dews was up there with his men, pinned down by the grazing fire of the enemy guns.
"S/Sgt Ken Harrold began crawling back to find a bazooka. That's what we needed, something to blast the pill-box out of existence. Before he could get back far enough, a bullet ripped into his leg and he was stopped. Sgt Fletcher took up where he left off, found the bazooka team, but one man had a bullet wound in the stomach and the other's hands were frozen from the wet snow. Sgt Fletcher grabbed the weapon and the ammo, then crawled to within thirty yards of the pill-box. With a little help he laid in about six bursts then he lobbed in a few grenades. The enemy machine guns were silent. I Company was back on its feet except for those lying in the crimsoned snow. Casualties were high; the company seemed about half its original strength, but they pushed on. The pill-box was knocked out, but Jerry still had artillery and he showed it to us. The shells whistled in; the sound of explosions was deafening; the ground shook and shrapnel hissed through the air. The men hit the ground, hugged Mother Earth, cold and wet from the snow. This was combat."
Yes, the enemy was tough. In the official G-2 report for the period 13-14 November, it is stated:
"The enemy defended stubbornly long the dominating high ground to our front. He employed his mortars and machine guns to the utmost and with skill, as his observation was good. Fire from snipers was also effective. His artillery, although not in great volume, was troublesome to the front line units, particularly in the vicinity of the high ground to the north. An Officer PW, from the 553rd Combat School, whose personnel were manning the out-guard stated that his platoon had orders to remain in position until the last shot was fired, and that, his platoon proceeded to do."
To relieve the perilous situation and lessen the tremendous pressure to the front, something had to be done which would negate the enemy's terrific fire power there. Upon orders from Division, the 114th Infantry Regiment struck at the Heinie from the right flank of the 71st Infantry, also stalled and swung sharply left at right angles to the original direction of advance. With a rolling barrage of artillery in front of them and supported by the fires of the 324th and 71st, the 114th moved northward across the front of the 324th Infantry, literally sweeping the enemy from his "impregnable" positions. This maneuver enabled the first and third battalions of the 324th to move forward. This they did towards the town which nobody in the whole 324th Infantry Regiment thinks about without putting the word "bloody" in front of it. Avricourt !
The second and first battalions pushed forward while the third reverted to regimental reserve and went to a large clearing where they spent the night. Expected reinforcements did not arrive. Nevertheless, the next morning, the third set out for the town of Avricourt, approaching it along the railroad tracks leading into the town from the right.
In the meantime, the first and second battalions had approached the town some distance to the left of the railroad tracks and had dug in during the dark after a long march, on the hilly ground outside of town. After they had dug in, terrific barrages of enemy artillery, mortars, sniper fire, and everything else in the book came flying at them. Then they realized that they had come flush up against the enemy defense line and, in some places, were actually between the enemy outposts

and their main line of resistance. The Jerries poured it to them hard and it was here that the name "Bloody Avricourt" came into being. In some places, the Yanks could see how close the Germans were and could hear them talking.
Lieutenant Erickson called upon his second section of machine guns to open up. Nothing happened. Again he gave the order and again nothing happened. He became a trifle wrathful as he moved to the gun position to see what was the matter. All ready to bawl out T/Sgt Joseph Crystal and Sgt William Rogers, he saw that both guns in the section had been knocked out and some of the crew wounded.
The men could see mortar shells going up and coming down, they were so close. The Germans moved around the flanks in an attempt to surround the two battalions and almost succeeded. Time and again, they rushed the flanks and were beaten off by the superior quality of the thing called American guts. Contact with regiment was difficult to maintain. Movement or regrouping for an attack with these forces was impossible. Help would have to come from some other source. But where ?
The opposing forces, according to G-2 reports, were still some of the elements of the 553rd Grenadier Division plus some units of the 708th Volksgrenadier Division.
On the right flank of the regiment, Captain Anthony M. Pico of L Company received a message. The remaining forty two men of his company plus some attached sections of K and M Companies had dug in. Many of the men were limping from trenchfoot; all of them were tired and cold. Is it any wonder that Captain Pico looked at the message several times to make sure of what he read before calling his platoon sergeants together and telling them ? They just looked at him and at each other and shrugged their shoulders. The other men when they heard it were very quiet and some of them wept unashamed. They were the closest available force and they had to attack. There would be some planes and some tanks to help, but that cheered them little. They felt sick and cold and miserable, but the order was to attack.
It was a ragged lot that picked themselves up out of their foxholes and hobbled forward. They were headed for a cemetery at the edge of town by a wide enveloping movement around the right to hit the enemy from the rear. As they drew closer they could see the Jerry guns pointing at them. A cemetery is a good place to die. Most of the men didn't care what happened to them anymore. But they moved forward. The Jerries still hadn't fired a shot; L Company's approach had not yet been detected. When the men got halfway across the field, something happened that made them run forward in relief, shouting and with smiles on their faces. For there in front of them, the Germans had risen from the trenches and had come out from behind the tombstones, their hands high over their heads in surrender ! The Yanks asked no questions but rounded up the Jerries pulling them from their foxholes, and began the advance into their sector of Avricourt. As so often happens in the true drama of war, there is a tremendous buildup to an unexpected let-down; events leading up to a looked-for clash do not end in the anticipated hard battle. Such was the case here, although sporadic firing, mainly by snipers, met Captain Pico's band as they entered the town. Returning the fire and blasting window and cellar positions of the beaten defenders. L Company moved in. Mopping up was begun.
The 749th Tank Battalion also advanced into town and started hitting the enemy emplacements holding down the First and Second Battalions. Baker Company, in second battalion reserve, entered Avricourt from the left and likewise started mopping up operations. To the other men of battalions one and two facing the enemy on the hill, appeared this beautiful sight; out of the mists rumbled our tanks and all around them our infantrymen. The Germans were getting up and running, falling, dying, or surrendering. Avricourt had fallen ! The key city to the territory ahead was in American hands and the enemy was routed. The fall of Avricourt made possible the liberation of the rest of Alsace. The cost paid in casualties was heavy, and the suffering from the rain and snow and cold was severe. But the town was taken.
G-2's general summary of the enemy's situation declared that he had withdrawn with lines badly cut and had possibly evacuated, except for small holding and delaying forces, the towns of Deutch-Avricourt, Rechicourt, Igney, Foulney, Repaix, and Gogney had fallen. Indications were that the 553rd Grenadier Division was facing annihilation because of the appearance of Battle Groups composed of personnel from their Division and Regimental trains, and also the reappearance in the line of the replacement battalions of the 553rd and 708th Grenadier Divisions. Actually the First f Battalion of the 728th Regiment was about the only truly combat unit remaining in the German lineup when the Battle of Avricourt was ended.
But as long as they can remember, the men of the 324th Infantry will think of the things that were done there and they will talk of the men who did them.
There was the time two German medics came crawling up to the lines and Sgt Richard J. Leonard of M Company said, "Halt !"
The Jerries said, "Nix," so Sgt Leonard fired two shots and got them both - one in the head, the other in the chest.

"Now check your morning reports, you bastards !" he cried. Upon investigation, it was found that both Germans had pole charges which they were trying to place in American lines. His words hurled at the Germans after he shot them became the rallying cry of his company all through combat.
Then there's the story of Pfc Luke G. Serensits of the Medical Detachment, 324th Infantry, who, although he knew he had lost his medical arm band, dashed across open terrain towards two soldiers who had been hit by sniper fire. As he did so the enemy machine gun and sniper fire was directed at him. After being struck down by a bullet in his heel, he crept towards his bleeding comrades and in the face of intense sniper fire, removed them to a partly concealed position where he administered first-aid.
When a platoon of A Company passed from a wooded area to an open field on the way to Avricourt, it was met by concentrated small arms and artillery fire which inflicted heavy losses. Under orders, the unit withdrew. Noticing two casualties still lying in the open field, S/Sgt James C. Noble and Sgt Joseph T. Pfeffer unhesitatingly worked their way through the perilous fire to their assistance. They treated the wounded men and evacuated them to a position of safety.
Soon after becoming squad leader, S/Sgt. Charles T. Flippen of Company L was wounded in the foot but refused to be evacuated. For three days he forced himself to perform his duties despite the fact that he was barely able to walk. When he observed an enemy machine gun crew attempting to overrun his position, he secured a BAR, crawled through a defiladed area to within ten yards of the hostile group, and killed the three Germans and destroyed the gun. Then he crawled back to his hole where he fainted from pain and exhaustion.
These are but a few of the many stories that can be told of the heroism and gallantry of the men of 324 in the early days of action against the enemy.
After Avricourt had fallen, the night was spent in digging in and resting a little. Then next day, November 18, found everybody on the move again. With the Second Battalion in the lead, the Regiment attacked Deutsch-Avricourt and in one hour's time, the town was secured. After immediate reorganization, the second pushed on and hit at Rechicourt, assisted by the 106th Cavalry Squadron attacking from the north. Rechicourt, too, was quickly taken and all units of the regiment were ordered to consolidate their positions for the night.
The next morning, the 324th attacked the enemy, again with the Second Battalion in the leading assault position. The mission was to clear the Bois de Ketzing of enemy soldiers. Once again the mission was quickly accomplished and for the first time Germans were surrendering decisively and in great numbers. They started giving up in large groups before being beaten into surrender.
In many cases they came out of the woods with their hands held high before the men had the chance to go in and flush them out.
One hour and thirty minutes after the woods were cleared, the Second Battalion again led the attack, this time in the vicinity of St. Georges and the sector of the road from Heming to St. Georges was secured.
The Second then occupied the high ground in the vicinity of Neufmoulins and the First Battalion advanced through them with the mission of securing the road crossings at Heming. They got as far as the Rhine-Marne Canal where they were halted by enemy sniper fire and by the fact that the retreating Jerries had blown up the bridge over the canal.
The wreckage of the bridge, however, was partially out of the water, so the men of Company B, led by Lieutenant Laurence Bradbury, crawled across. One man was hit by a sniper and Lieutenant Bradbury had one of the flap buttons on his field jacket clipped by a bullet.
Other crossings were made and the town of Heming was taken. The First Battalion then turned northward and attacked the town of Haut-Clocher which the Second Battalion was attacking from the west. After Haut-Clocher fell, came Langate, also easy prey to the attackers.
On November 21, the regiment was placed in Division reserve for a much needed and well-deserved rest. The significance of what had been done was borne out in the letter of commendation to the 44th Division by Lieutenant General Alexander M. Patch, Commanding General of the U. S. Seventh Army.


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