BATTLE OF HÜRTGEN FOREST
B Company, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Division.
16 November – 13 December 1944
Lt. Tony Bizzaro, platoon leader, 2nd platoon; later CO.
Lt. William Murray, platoon leader of 1st platoon after 25 November,
Lt. Voyage Ramey, forward observer of 44th FA Bn, with B Company.
Lt. Robert Wessman, company Executive Officer.
S/Sgt. Joe W. Forrester, platoon guide of 2nd platoon; later platoon sgt, 1st pl.
S/Sgt. Stanley T. Jozwiak, squad leader and later platoon sergeant, 3rd platoon.
Sgt. Christopher C. Neal, squad leader and later platoon sgt., weapons platoon.
Pfc. Thomas P. Ward, bazookaman and later squad leader, 2nd platoon.
Pvt. Alton Byerly, radio operator in Co. Hq.
Capt. James McLane, CO Co B., (later S-3 1st Bn, 22nd Inf Regt).
Vic. Gostingen, Luxembourg, 15-16 December 1944: Interviews by Capt. K. W. Hechler, 2nd Info & Hist Sv. (VIII Corps).
On 16 November, B Co. started to move forward at 1245, and passed through the 2d Battalion. Little opposition was encountered, except from artillery and mortar fire, and the move was carried out in columns of platoons. Nine casualties were suffered the first day from artillery and mortar fire.
On 17 November the company had its first major engagement, in wooded area and hilly terrain, where the enemy had erected hasty defenses and some strong points reinforced by layers of logs and communication trenches. The first strong point was close to the crossfire breaks at (009379). The enemy had some mines thickly along the firebreak, and defended the firebreak with a pair of machine guns on each side. The left (northwest) side of the firebreak was a little more heavily wooded than the right side. Visibility was limited to 20 yards but the enemy apparently had better observation from high ground. These observation enabled the enemy to zero in artillery on the possible approaches.
Four tanks accompanied the advance of B Co. on 17 November. The tanks jumped off online with the infantry, but quickly spread out along the firebreak until it was about 25 to 30 yards between tanks. The company advanced with three platoons online, covering 200 yards to the right (Southeast) and 100 yards to the left of the firebreak. The 1st, 2nd and 3rd platoons were arranged in that order from left to right, with the 2nd being closest to the firebreak. Initially, the 2nd and 3rd had started out abreast, but the first platoon was committed on the company’s left flank in an attempt to push forward more quickly.
The tanks had advanced scarcely more than 50 yards before the lead tank hit a group of mines in the firebreak at (009379). There had been no attempt to clear mines in advance of the tanks. Shortly thereafter a second tank hit a mine, causing two casualties from concussions in the crew. The tank commander attempted to bypass the knocked out tanks, but they blocked the firebreak. Then the tank commander put the other two General Stuarts online, about 100 yards apart on the left side of the firebreak. They are machine guns sprayed in the underbrush, and a few rounds of 37 were fired from a stationary position, and no further advance was made. The tanks were initially effective as a morale factor but did not materially assist.
About 50 yards beyond where the tanks were knocked out, a machine gun on the left firebreak opened up, followed by two on the right of the road. Pfc. Marcario Garcia and Pfc. Charles Jeffries, the lead scouts of the 2nd platoon, went out with their BAR’s, 30-40 yards in advance of the rest of the platoon and about the same distance from each other. Successively, the three machine gun positions were reduced by one of these scouts opening fire to draw fire, the second working around to the flank of the gun and firing and then an assault squad of about 15 men assaulting the gun with a steady rush and a maintenance of fire superiority.
“Garcia and Jeffries were to the best scouts I have ever seen,” said Lt. Tony Bizarro. “They had just plain guts, and they were always well forward.” Regarding Jeffries, Pfc. Ward relates that throughout the campaign, he would never stay in his hole during even the heaviest artillery or mortar barrage, but would be constantly hopping around and firing at possible targets. “I wanna to make ’em think there’s a battalion here,” Jeffries would always say.
On 17 November, the light machine guns were employed right on the line with the assaulting elements. The heavy machine guns were used only for defensive purposes and were not set up for firing until after the company had dug in for the night. 18 casualties were suffered on the second day of the attack.
For the next few days, B Company was not very actively engaged. On the 18th after A and C Co. had attacked, B C. moved up and tied in with the other companies to form an all-around defense. On 19 November, B Co remained in the same position; considerable difficulty was encountered hand-carrying supplies up the hill.
On 20 November, B Co. remained in position until noon, when they went to tie in with A Co’s right flank, as A and C companies had pushed ahead for 600 yards. After remaining in position on 21 November, B Co. moved a mile on 22 November the right flank of the second Battalion to assist them in securing a vital road junction they just obtained in that area. On the evening of Thanksgiving Day, according to the company Journal, a radio message came in announcing that turkey was awaiting the company. “Believing this to be a code word for something else, a small detail was sent out to find out the score;” the turkey could not be consumed at night because the company underwent another heavy artillery barrage, but the following day it was made available.
On 24 November, B Co. rejoined the 1st Battalion, on 25 November move up to the old 3rd Battalion positions 800 yards ahead (with two casualties) and on 26 November sees five casualties from shell fire when C Co. attacked to secure the patch of woods west of Grosshau.
On 27 November, B Co. had a bitter fight to recapture the woods which C Co. had lost the previous day. The 1st platoon started off in the lead in what was to have been a column of platoons jumping off at 0900, the 17 men in personal tunes started off in an irregular skirmish line, crouching in the three-foot grass to avoid detection. They moved without detection to the 30 yards from the edge of the wood, and started firing. Lieut. Murray was in the lead, hurting his men onward, but a hail of artillery, order and small arms fire greeted the platoon as in the open fire. For two hours the platoon tried to advance and succeeded only in crawling up 5-6 yards closer. Lt. Murray was still in the lead, but fortunate enough to have the refuge of a large shell crater. The rest of the platoon behind him was annihilated; all 17 were either killed or wounded.
The company then reorganized, and the 3rd platoon prepared to advance toward the same ground, around the right flank of the 1st platoon. The platoon got about 20 yards from the edge of the woods and then received the same artillery and shell fire which the 1st platoon had received. The platoon was pulled back and there were 12–13 men left, and the company once again reorganized in preparation for pressing the attack with the 30 men it had remaining. 4.2 mortar fire was called for, and it raked the field west of the woods.
The 2nd platoon then tried to slip across the field a squat at a time in skirmish line. Ten men got up as far as 20 yards from the woods, when a machine gun had them helplessly pinned down. Pfc. Charles Edwards was the first man who endeavored to knock out the gun.
Edwards, a former member of the 4th Engineer Battalion, had asked repeatedly to join the company; his wish had finally been granted when the company was in its hottest action around Brandescheid in assaulting the Siegfried Line. Edwards crept up toward the gun, but had not advanced more than 5 yards before quick a burst drilled him. S/Sgt. Thomas F. Dyess tried to worm his way around through the woods to fight the gun from the right, but he too was wounded in the attempt. Pfc. Marcario Garcia, acting squad leader in the support platoon, then went into the woods. Lt. Bizarro heard several grenades explode, and saw Garcia’s form advancing into the edge of the woods. In a few minutes several reports from an M1 rifle were heard. Then Garcia emerged from the woods, saying: “God damn, I killed three Germans and knocked out that machine-gun.” No sooner had he said this when another machine-gun open another section of the woods and Garcia, though wounded, reentered the woods, completely annihilated the machine-gun crew of three and took four prisoners without assistance. This enabled the rest of the company to advance into the woods.
As soon as they had set up, tanks started to deliver direct fire into the B Co. position, in the same way in which they had fired on C Co. in the same situation the preceding day. Snipers were also firing from a frame house no more than 50 yards away from the B company positions. It was very difficult to spot all the places where fire was coming from but, as Bizarro put it later, “We figured we had paid so dearly for the ground that we would hold it at all costs.” Later in the evening, E Co. came over and reinforced the depleted ranks of B Co.
The tank which had been firing direct fire to the B Co. positions from west of Grosshau was not knocked out, but it withdrew during the night and B Co.’s lines held firm. There were only 25 men left in the company by the close of the day on 27 November. What few of the older men were left were redistributed and spread as evenly as possible among the platoons.
During the fighting on 27 November, B Company suffered 54 casualties, including Lt. Daniel Dickinson, CO; Lt. Bizzaro then took over the company. Lt. William Jordan, platoon leader of the antitank company of the regiment, drove his half-track and 57mm gun down the uncleared road close to Grosshau and set it up in a defensive position for the night.
After a relatively quiet. 28 – 29 November, on 30 November B Company moved into and outpost Grosshau. Very little except scattered my proposition was encountered in this task.
On one December, B Company attacked in the rear of C and A Companies. The second and third platoon advanced a breast across the open ground. Casualties from artillery fire, which had been extremely heavy in A Company, were not as heavy as expected – – there were only five crossing this open ground. Relatively little difficulty with experience advancing through the woods, although some direct tank fire was being received from the talents of Gey and Strass, both of which afforded the enemy excellent observation of the movements across the open ground.
On three December, B Co. was hit by a strong counterattack on its left flank, which threw back the left flank and was not stemmed until both A and C companies had rushed reinforcements to assist. The counterattack, consisting of approximately 150 infantry unsupported by armor but aided by 15 strafing planes hit B Co. in the area of vicinity (068390), 200 yards south of the Grosshau-Gey road, in a southeasterly direction for about 50 yards. C Company was on B’s right flank extending to the southeast, while A Co. extended around to the southwest and right rear. On the left flank of B Co., I Co. extended to the northwest; the previous day the enemy had counterattacked the 3rd Battalion’s positions and made a deep dent in I Co’s lines.
After daylight on 3 December, the enemy delivered heavy mortar and artillery concentrations on the house at the edge of the woods and also on the other B Co. positions. Several B Co. men were occupying the house, had dug fox holes in and around old farm and shell craters close to the house, and two-man foxholes extended every 10-15 yards toward the southeast for about 100 yards.
The enemy attack came directly down the road from Gey toward the B Co positions. Lt. Voyage Ramey, forward observer with B Co. from the 44th Field Artillery Battalion, called for concentrations on the area of approach, approximately 25 enemy infantry with automatic weapons and bazookas swarmed in around the corner of the house. Pfc. James F. Townsend, A B Co. man operating a heavy .30 caliber machine gun borrowed from D company, was entrenched at the corner of the house. Sgt. Jozwick, watching from his hole sixty yards to the right rear, saw Townsend’s position overrun. Townsend operated his machine-gun until it was destroyed by a hand grenade pitched into his position. Then he grabbed a “burp gun” from the debris around the house and continued resisting until the gun was actually shot from his hand and the enemy overpowered him. Pvt. Melvin L. McNamee also fired his rifle steadily from the same position, but probably inflicted fewer casualties than did Townsend before both positions were overrun.
Sgt. Stanton Swerlein and Pvt. William Hall of the B Co weapons platoon, the front of the B Co. lines by firing from 100 yards from the house in a northwesterly direction. Their position was not directly assaulted, but all present testified to the value of the rapid firing which Swerlein and Hall were doing across the front.
After taking the house and the position held by Townsend and McNamee, 10 to 15 infantrymen assaulted another hole held by three C. Co. heavy machine gunners (Cpl. Robert M. Adkins, Pfc. Jay B. Gaskey and Pfc. John J. Coylex, Jr.) and one rifleman from B Co., Pvt. Harry Guthrie. Two squads of enemy rushed this hole, throwing hand grenades. Two grenades lit in the hole, one blowing the gun out of Atkins hand. All four men continued firing until a bazooka round killed Guthrie and stunned the other trio and they were captured.
8-10 yards to the right rear of the captured position, Sgt. Curtis Evans, D Co. section leader, and Pfc. Thomas P Ward, B Co. squad leader held another position from which they were firing steadily. Evans and Ward were within grenade-throwing range of the assaulting enemy, and one grenade burst a tree right over there hole, but entered nobody.
10 yards farther to the rear of the position held by Evans and Ward were Lt. Ramey, artillery observer, and Sgt. Jozwiak, 3rd platoon sergeant; S/Sgt. William Sparks, T/Sgt. Nicholas J. Variano, Pvt. Melvin Brunson, and Lt. William Murray. This position was also subjected to heavy fire of all types, and just after the enemy had overrun the Adkins-Caskey-Coyle-Guthrie position, two bullets penetrated Pvt. Brunson’s helmet and rifle stock. He was unable to fire at the enemy, but continued to point his rifle up above the hole and fire into the air. “Did I do right?” he kept asking his mates; he later died from his wounds.
With the enemy milling around the Evans-Ward position, Sgt. Variano returned to Lt. Bizzaro several hundred yards back to apprise him of the situation. Lt. Bizzaro immediately mobilized his reserve personnel, consisting of approximately 16 radio operators, cooks, and headquarters personnel. Lt. Robert Westman, company executive officer, took command of this group and they pressed forward to aid B Company’s hard-pressed forces. “We worked our way down to where the fighting was the hottest,” said Pvt. Alton Byerly, radio operator, “dropped off a few men at each defensive position along the way, and set up a heavy machine gun to give covering fire for the advancing rifle. We picked up a Heinie burp gun along the way and used it with our miscellaneous weapons. As I was coming up I saw a lot of effective firing being done by Pfc. Al Benge and S/Sgt. William Sparks. Sgt. Sparks was the coolest man I ever saw. He just lay behind a stump and picked off one after another.” “Well, I think that one got him,” Sparks would say, and then after another shot with his M1: “That one got him for sure.”
Lt. Donald A. Warner, A Co. CO, rounded up 15 of his men to assist in repelling the counterattack. Grabbing a light machine gun off a nearby half-track, Lt. Warner led his men over and started firing from a shell crater.
T/Sgt. John R. Straub, D Co. platoon sergeant, mobilized the heavy machine gun squads which had been supporting A and C Co.’s and sent them over as reinforcements. They arrived just in time to prevent the position held by Sgt. Evans and Pfc. Ward from being overrun. “I’m glad to see you,” said Evans simply and unsmilingly when Cpl. Ernest Frye arrived and set up his heavy machine gun in the same hole.
Sgt. Evans, a D-Day man, said he had never faced as tough a situation in a battle as this one.
Simultaneously with these developments, Capt. Morgan Stanford, CO of C Company, informed S/Sgt Louis Pingatore, platoon leader of C Company’s weapons platoon, that 10 men were needed immediately to assist B Co. Pingatore are really rounded up 2 or 3 men from each platoon by the “you, you, you, let’s go” method. Every man was a fresh replacement. One of them, Pvt. Stanton R. Dick, had cried to Capt. Stanford and Sgt. Pingatore the day before that he was so scared he couldn’t bear to face battle. Before the day was over, Pvt. Dick had distinguished himself and at the height of one of the counterattacks said to Pingatore: “Sarge, I’m not scared anymore; I’ll kill all of those bastards.”
Pingatore’s group set up a heavy and light machine gun in one of the bomb craters, and Pingatore and five of the men started to crawl toward the house. Sniper fire from the house wounded to ammunition bearers in the other group which had come up with Pingatore.
The five who had started crawling toward the house were pinned down by machine gun fire. Pingatore then yelled to his other eight men: “Well men, we can’t do a f—–g thing sitting still.” According to Pingatore’s account: “Then I got up out of the hole, took about ten steps, and we all started shooting at once.”
By this time, the other reinforcements which had reached B company– the headquarters men from A and C Companies and the heavy weapons men from D Company– had beated off the threat to the position originally held by Sgt. Evans and Pfc. Ward. Sgt. Straub and his men advanced board, and set up in the various shall craters and foxholes along the line. Cpl. Frye set up a light machine gun in the crater with Lt. Ramey and Sgt. Jozwiak, and fired on the crater which the enemy had overrun. Five riflemen of the group which had come up with Lt. Westman then assaulted this crater by rushes. When the position was finally taken, eight dead and one wounded enemy were discovered in the position. Sgt. Straub states: “At least thirty enemy dead were within 20 yards of the position and I think that Cpl. Adkins killed most of these with his heavy machine gun before the bazooka knocked out.”
At this point Sgt. John Zolnerick came over with a heavy machine gun squad which had been dispatched from C Co. This squad delivered supporting fire on the house, and five or six riflemen started around the right side of the house, accompanied by a light machine gun. No enemy opposition was encountered within the house; apparently they had all withdrawn, and there were only three or four American wounded left in the house. About a dozen were sniped at and they escaped back to Gey, but probably enemy casualties were in the neighborhood of 75.
Our casualties for the repelling of the counterattack for approximately 15. No casualties occurred when the enemy sent over approximately 15 planes which strafed but did not drop bombs.
(Note: For that portion of the B company story concerned with the counterattack of 3 December, all of the men listed under B, C, and C company accounts were interviewed.)