Heroes: the Army
"...The men slipped forward over the muddy, bare terrain for about 400 yards before they were fired upon. Then two machine guns - one located along a bluff to the north and one to the northeast - opened up and the company's progress was stopped..."
George F. Schroeder
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. B., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: Capt., Silver Star Medal, Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Emery, SD
Attack by Company B, 405th Infantry,
102nd Division, 22-23 November (1944)
by George F. Schroeder
The following article, marked "Secret" was among the papers sent to the historian by Mrs. Al Schwabacher after his death. The author, 1st Lt. George F. Schroeder, has given his permission to have it reprinted in the Notes.
Attack by Company B, 405th Infantry, 102nd Division, 22-23 November (1944)
Rain fell almost daily during mid November of 1944, turning the ground around the Americans' lines west and south of Beeck, Germany into a quagmire which stalled vehicles and in which men sank to their ankles. It was raining and cold on the morning of 22 November, when Company B, 405th lnf., started an attack to capture the high ground 500 yards to the east and north of the town.
The 405th, attached at the time to the 84th Infantry Division for operational purposes, had the mission of moving north, by-passing Beeck on its east, and capturing the high ground north of the city. The attack was to be spearheaded by 1st Battalion and Co. B was placed on the battalion's left flank. The 2nd Battalion was on the left, attacking directly toward Beeck.
Co. B moved up to its line of departure, approximately 1,500 yards north of Apweiler, on the night of 21 Nov., and at 1000 the following morning the attack was launched. The first and second platoons and the machine gun section were attacking echelons, and company headquarters, the mortar section, and the third platoon were to follow in support.
The men slipped forward over the muddy, bare terrain for about 400 yards before they were fired upon. Then two machine guns - one located along a bluff to the north and one to the northeast - opened up and the company's progress was stopped. It was then that most of the men discovered that their mud-covered weapons would not function. Some rifles would fire once and stop, and not even a kick would move the operating rod handle. It was estimated later that only about one weapon in four remained in working order.
The men remained pinned down for about an hour until a company of tanks arrived in support. The machine gun to the north was quickly put out of action, but the one to the east continued to fire, preventing the attack from going forward. Lt. John R. Mulder, mortar section commander, who was in a forward position, tried to order mortar fire on the remaining machine gun, but found that the tanks had run over and cut the telephone wire to his section. Mulder decided that the only course was to run back approximately a hundred yards to one of the tanks and direct its fire.
Mulder reached the tank safely, but still there was no fire placed on the machine gun, so Lt. George Schroeder, Company Exec. Officer, who had gone up to the attacking echelon to determine the situation, also ran back to the tank. He found Mulder arguing with the tank crew, who refused to fire on the machine gun.
The 3rd Battalion was attacking on the right, and the tankmen said they were afraid the gun might be a friendly one, even though Schroeder and Mulder told them that the 3rd Btn. had not advanced that far and pointed out the even more obvious fact that the machine gun was firing on Company B. Schroeder finally gave up and hunted up another tank nearby with more success. The tank fired three rounds and put the machine gun out of business.
This enabled the company to advance once more toward the objective. Rain and poor visibility cloaked them to some extent and there were only scattered shots as they moved north. As they crossed the small stream running south from Beeck, some of the men tried to clean their weapons by dipping them completely in the water. However most of those in the company fell down at least once climbing the hill running from the stream to the bluff just southeast of Beeck. After a few yards the weapons were once more mud covered.
The bluff was reached without incident. The company made contact with Co. C on its right and the companies entered a trench which they found running in an irregular horseshoe around the southern, western, and northern slopes of the bluff. Lt. Robert S. Smith and PFC Donald M. Carttar, a BAR man, found the trench deserted. The C Co. commander decided the trench could best be defended from its southern side, because it had originally been designed as a German defensive position against attack from the south and offered little cover against fire from the north. The company moved to the southern portion of the trench and organized a defensive position.
No fire was received by the company, which had had about 18 casualties, chiefly during the period of machine gun fire. The men were cold, muddy and hungry. A tank started toward them loaded with water and K rations but exposed itself on the skyline, and when it turned to come up to the infantry's position by a more covered route, was knocked out by enemy shells which struck its thinskinned rear.
Nevertheless, a carrying party was organized by the company and the rations were recovered and brought up. The remainder of the day and night passed quietly.
Regiment ordered the 1st Battalion, with Co. B still on the left, to attack 23 November at 0715 to capture the original objective. At 0715, just as a 10-minute artillery barrage struck the ground north of Beeck, Co. B started out of its trench in a manner reminiscent of WWI "over the top" days. The men jogged forward on the double down the slope into a hollow extending east of the town, and met a scattering of automatic weapons and small arms fire from the north and further to the east.
The attack was directed by Capt. Norman B. Estes, the company commander, and Lt. Smith. Schroeder followed the attacking platoons with the 3rd platoon, over which he had assumed command when the platoon leader and sergeant had become casualties the previous day. The light machine gun section was left behind because its weapons were so muddy they would not fire. The mortar section remained in support on the reverse slope of the hill.
After the men had double-timed forward for about 350 yards the began to tire and scatter. Capt. Estes halted them for a rest and Lt. Schroeder brought his platoon on line at the right and in a few minutes all the platoons continued the attack together.
As leading elements of the company appeared over the hill directly east of Beeck at 0730 hours, they saw three German tanks sitting on the road running squarely through the company's objective. The men ducked down and reported what they had seen, and since no fire was received Capt. Estes decided that the tanks had not seen the lead men. He ordered his company to dig in and organize a perimeter defense of the position until support to deal with the tanks could be brought up.
A company of tank destroyers, which was to have supported the attack, had failed to put in an appearance and the men heard later that they had been stopped by the mud. In addition, the company was now alone since contact with Co. C on the right had been lost after the latter had been held up by enemy fire from the east a short distance from the morning's line of departure.
While the men dug themselves in and made efforts to clean their arms, runners were sent back to notify the battalion commander of the situation. The company then settled down to await developments. There was little sign of enemy activity, although four rounds of artillery fire landed in the company's area about 0830. Shortly after 0900, Co. A, which had come forward by the covered route afforded by the creek bed and ravine behind the position now held by Co. B, moved into line on the right of the latter company.
Lt. Schroeder returned to the battalion observation post located on the reverse slope of the small hill around which ran the trench. He was to request support again by the tank destroyers. When he arrived there he found that the CP, located in a fox hole, was under fire from an enemy sniper who had shot both Lt. Col. George B. Robinson, the Btn. commander, and Major James R. Meyer, the executive officer. Capt. W. A. Miller, heavy weapons company commander, was now in command of the battalion.
Schroeder and Miller talked over the question of support and then Schroeder got a reel of combat communication wire (DRS of 130W wire) and two sound-powered telephones. He wrapped wire about one phone, tossed it to the OP, and with PFC Norman A. Gaudetter, he laid a line to the company's position. The wire barely reached, but communications had been established with the battalion CP. A parallel line was also run from Co. A. to the battalion so the two companies also had communication.
Meanwhile, the mortar section under S/Sgt. Gerald Prasse, moved forward into the company s defensive position. The situation was more secure, although the only enemy activity of note to this point occurred when a German soldier wandered into the left of the company defense and was taken prisoner by S/Sgt. Zenos L. Boone.
About 1100 a section of heavy machine guns, which had been cleaned of mud and test-fired in a dugout to the rear, was brought up and placed in position from which they could fire directly into Beeck if necessary.
For several hours there was no activity and the tanks on the road to the north remained quiet. Carrying parties went back and brought up more K rations and water, and another party was organized to pick apples in an orchard behind the company's position and toss them up to the men in the foxholes on the hilltop. About mid-afternoon, however, some of the men began to grow careless and exposed themselves when the walked over to a nearby haystack for straw to put in their foxholes.
Whether the tanks now saw the Americans for the first time or not, they opened up with their 88s and machine guns. Co. B got back in its fox holes and stayed there. From then on, every time a man stuck his head up he drew fire.
No support from the tank destroyers had appeared, although Lt. Schroeder - listening over the telephone - could hear Capt. Miller make repeated efforts to get help. About this time enemy infantry was observed advancing from the east. The Germans occupied the high ground between the company's line of departure and its present location. Because of the fire, Co. B was unable to observe how many Germans there were or where they had gone.
Artillery was called for on the tanks, but because of the almost continuous fire the tanks were putting on the American's position, there was no way of observing where the shells were landing. Lt. Schroeder's foxhole was slightly to the rear, protected by a low rise, which made it possible for him to stand up, and he attempted to direct the fire by jumping into the air to observe where the fire hit. "I always landed back in the hole before the Germans could fire at me, and their bursts passed over my head," Schroeder said. However the tanks soon started firing their machine guns and 88s into a tree near schroeder's hole, and the resulting ricochets and fragments made it impossible for him to jump up again. Thereafter, fire direction was by sound only, and because of this several shells fell short in the Americans' positions before the artillery was corrected. No one was hurt, although two sergeants were buried in their holes by near misses and had to dig themselves out. The tanks weren't hit.
About 1500 the telephone went dead and a SCR radio had by a mortar observer in the company was pressed into service. Over the radio Capt. Miller, who had been unsuccessful in his efforts to get supporting tank destroyers, ordered Co. A and B to withdraw after he had secured permission for the movement. Captains Estes and Corner - the latter commanding Co. A - decided to withdraw the companies by the covered route used by Co. A when it came up to the position.
One of the German tanks stopped this scheme when it moved south along the route to a point commanding the ravine running south of Beeck and began to spray the proposed route with machine gun fire. As a second choice the captains then decided to withdraw their men directly to the south and use the trench held by Co. B the previous night as a route of withdrawal. They were not aware of it, but the route to be followed out went almost directly through the positions now held by the Germans who had infiltrated from the east during the earlier part of the day.
Just before the withdrawal, the artillery laid smoke in front of the position as a screen for the men when they crossed the open ground between their position and their trench. It also gave them time to hunt for wounded in their foxholes and help them back. The heavy machine guns were abandoned and the gunners were used to help wounded. About 1630 the withdrawal started.
Lt. Schroeder, leading the withdrawal, found and entered a trench - believing it to be the same as that of the day before - but it came to a dead end after a few yards. He then passed word back to Captains Estee and Corner that he would go across country and would stay in low ground to avoid tank fire. The column started back, headed almost directly south.
The meeting between the Americans coming back and the Germans in position to their rear was a surprise to both sides, neither of whom knew of the other's location. As the Americans advanced through the murky light of late afternoon they found themselves not more than 10 yards away from the Germans and just about in the center of their line. The Germans, after one look of horrified astonishment, threw up their hands in surrender.
"Even so," Schroeder recalled, "we had to jab a few of them in the ass with our bayonets to get them out of their foxholes."
Several of the Germans, when the realized the situation, attempted to escape into their trenches on either side of the American column and were shot. More than 30 were taken prisoner.
The prisoners were made to double-time ahead of the two companies back into the American lines, where Co. I was in reserve. The American soldiers followed and watched the Germans, and when they saw they had gotten back to Co. I's lines without being shot, they followed through to safety. Only six additional casualties, all from scattered fire, were suffered during the withdrawal.
----- George F. Schroeder
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
Interested in some background information?
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United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "Attack by Company B, 405th Infantry, 102nd Division, 22-23 November (1944)", by George F. Schroeder, Co. B.,405th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 47, No. 4, July/September. 1995, pp. 4-7.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 24 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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