Blue Baptism in Battle
The view east from Lammersdorf was beautiful to the eye, rolling hedge-rowed fields broken by an occasional farmhouse, ravines and steep pine hills. But it was ugly ground for offensive fighting. The wooded hill-crests made natural strong--points for the enemy and gave them observation over all the natural or easy routes of attack. Those routes that remained were difficult, involved working through heavy brush and climbing steep and muddy heights. In addition the, enemy had adjusted in on every possible target, thoroughly mined the roads and trails, and chosen its defensive positions with great care and wisdom. The 310th mission was, to advance across this terrain, capture the town of Rollesbroich, the high ground north, of Rollesbroich, and a road junction and commanding ground south of Rollesbroich.
The early morning of December 13 was extremely cold and the snow 'which had fallen intermittently for three days was in places waist deep. Already thoroughly wet, the troops had spent a miserable night preparing for the attack, trying to keep warm, and wondering what the real thing would be like and how well they would fight. At 0400 the men of the Third Battalion moved forward, worked their way up a nearly vertical 2010 foot slope and passed through the 102nd Cavalry which had been holding the line. Meanwhile, to the north, the 311th Infantry and the 78th Reconnaissance Troop were firing everything they had, in order to deceive the enemy as to the' 310th's direction of attack. The Third Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Harry Lutz, attacked at 0600. Co K on the north, Co L on the south, Co I in reserve. Struggling over slippery terrain in intense darkness, stumbling into foxholes, scratched by branches, the men advanced undiscovered by the enemy until 0625, when, both companies received their first fire. Co L men quickly learned the noiseless approach of the mortar shell and the sound of rapid-fire German automatic weapons, while, Co K saw its first Kraut soldiers, who fired at them until out of ammunition and then surrendered. The companies continued to advance and at 0730 seized their initial objectives, small hills overlooking Rollesbroich from the north-west and south-west. At this point the enemy showed its strength.
Machine-gun fire from a concrete troop shelter atop a steep hill north of Rollesbroich pinned down most of Co K while heavy artillery and mortar fire fell in its midst. There was no need for instructions to dig in. The men dug quickly and automatically' as they had hit the ground when the first shells fell. But a few elements of the company managed to work their way south and were able to enter Rollesbroich.
Co L too, ran into a tough obstacle. The company was astride a hill just west of the crossroads at the southern end of Rollesbroich when it received intense machine-gun fire from one of the crossroad houses. One platoon was pinned down. When it became apparent, from the ineffectualness of L Co's return fire, that this was no ordinary house they were facing, the still mobile platoons bypassed the crossroads to the north and entered Rollesbroich. By noon, with the assistance of those Co K elements which had entered the town, they had cleared most of Rollesbroich's 50-odd battered buildings. The resistance was primarily from snipers with burp guns who fired until their ammunition was exhausted and then came out shouting "Kamerad" Co's K and L had taken Rollesbroich and were mopping up, but the crossroads-house, which was in reality a disguised troop shelter with thick concrete walls, was still a problem. Two men made a gallant attempt to destroy it by creeping to its very walls and placing charges against them.
However, the long trek and constant falling in the snow had thoroughly wet the charges and they failed to explode. An artillery concentration might have been affective, but Capt. Barton H. Hunter, Co L commander, refused to chance injuring further the wounded-men lying near the fort. Tank Destroyers were unable to approach, because the road, which had already been dubbed "88" Lane, was heavily mined and covered by artillery, mortar and automatic weapons fire which prevented removal of the mines. One platoon of Co I which had the mission of protecting an engineer squad attempting to clear the road had already suffered heavy casualties. Co B attacked at 1345. It -advanced rapidly along the Lammersdorf-Rollesbroich road, "88 Lane" toward the Rollesbroich crossroads from where it expected to turn south to seize the road junction and high ground south of town. But fire from the camouflaged fort which had pinned down the L Co Platoon, and from other crossroads houses, forced the company to dig in after suffering 13 casualties. At 1400, after making personal reconnaissance, Lt. Col. Lutz committed Co I with the mission of swinging around Co K's left flank and securing the hill and troop shelters which were holding up Co K. The newly-committed unit advanced through sporadic resistance, capturing 20 prisoners, to a group of houses just southwest of Co K. There, severe opposition from groups which had infiltrated back to their positions, forced the company to dig in. Meanwhile the elements of Companies L and K which had cleared Rollesbroich dug defensive positions on the eastern outskirts of the town. The Third Battalion, 310th Infantry had gained its primary objective, Rollesbroich. Now the problem was to hold it.
There were enemy to the front, to the right and left and even to the rear. Men had to be fed and re-supplied with ammunition, casualties had to be evacuated. This seemed an almost impossible task in view of the fact that no vehicles could enter Rollesbroich because of the mined roads and artillery bombardment. This meant that all supplies and casualties would have to be carried by hand for distances, ranging up to two miles and this in darkness over extremely tough and difficult terrain. But the impossible was accomplished. All available men pitched in regardless of rank or of position.
Lt. Col. Lutz personally led and worked with several of the carrying parties. After dark the garrison of the crossroads fort picked up our casualties and gave them first aid. Three uninjured men Pfcs Biggs, Warren W. Hartwell and, Sandford Brooks, who were pinned down near them were also taken. But later that night when six of the Krauts attempted to take these men to the rear they were intercepted by Pfc Crighe Vandergrift and Pfc Carey F. Everitt who with their BAR lay concealed in a dump of bushes. Vandergrift signaled to Biggs, Hartwell and Brooks to duck and opened fire, killing two of the Germans and causing the rest to surrender. All Rollesbroich was cleared except the southern tip, and the battalion was engaged in holding the town, evacuating casualties and re-supplying, ammunition. The enemy garrison abandoned the troop shelter during the night leaving behind the I Co L wounded who had spent much of the night trying to convince the Germans to surrender. The enlisted men had been willing but their officer refused. Companies K and L mopped up in the northern part of Rollesbroich. Company I mopped up north of Rollesbroich and after dark, one platoon led by Lt. Maghran secured the high ground and troop shelter which had given Co K so much trouble. , Anti-tank Co., under cover of darkness, sent two platoons into Rollesbroich to give support if needed. The Medical Aid men and Litter bearers. continued to work without appreciable rest, treating casualties under fire without thought of their own safety, entering and carrying wounded from mine fields and hand-carrying litter cases across thousands of yards of the roughest kind. of ground. The 3rd Battalion had decisively won its first engagement, gained approximately a mile into the Siegfried Line and had killed or captured more than 150 of the enemy.
The following day, December 15, the units cleaned out snipers who had infiltrated the lines during the night, improved communications and consolidated positions. Capt. Owens, K Company Commander, personally led a combat patrol composed of part of the first platoon and the light machine-gun section whose mission was to capture a group of buildings located north of Rollesbroich and between the north end of the village and the bald hill which I Company had captured and out-posted the night before. After a terrific fight, they captured an enemy command post and a 75 mm gun position. Pfc Chilgion was killed in this action and Lts. Baskett and Maloney the two fighting buddies of Company K were both seriously wounded. Co I made contact with the 78th Recon. Troop on the left and set up an OP to maintain contact. One platoon of Co 310th Infantry Regiment returned to the minefield which had inflicted so many casualties upon it and, with an A-T Co mine squad and a squad of Engineers, cleared a path through it. The platoon passed through the opening, contacted Co I and then returned with the rest of the company to Ist Bn control. That night it was learned that, several miles to the south massed armored divisions under Field Marshal Von Rundstedt had smashed through the American front line on a broad front and were racing into Belgium.
The days that followed were tense and uneasy ones. Not more than five miles to the south Von Rundstedt's armor had already penetrated deeply into American lines. However by 25 January 1945 the Ardennes Bulge no longer existed and American troops had -fought their way back to their original lines. It was time to get moving again. During the attack on Konzen on 30 January 1945 a German officer captured by the Third Battalion described the attack as the most excellent and tactically sound he had ever witnessed. Co. I, supported by one platoon of Tank Destroyers, jumped off at 0530, while Cannon Co., working their 105's at better than 5 rounds a minute, fired a 10 minute concentration of 320 rounds into Konzen. The high ground east of Konzen (Konzen Hill) fell without resistance and Co I moved toward Konzen from the east. Co L with a platoon of tanks in support moved forward at 0800 and entered the town from the northeast. Resistance was light at first and the troops advanced rapidly through the shell-shattered village whose only remnant of former inhabitants were the horse, and cow carcasses which lined the roads. At the center of town however, two platoons and the headquarters group were held up by heavy rifle and machine fire from a large stone house.
Several direct bazooka hits set afire the lead supporting tank which had approached to within a hundred yards of the house. T/5 Henry C. Ficht, Co L aid-man, immediately rushed across the fire-raked field in front of the house, climbed the flaming tank turret, and was attempting to extricate the wounded tankers when he was killed by Burp gun fire. Ficht, was wearing a white snow suit with a large red cross painted on it as well as, the red crosses on his helmet. Seeing this Pfc, Richard L Lussier, who was returning to his platoon, after having successfully carried under fire an important message to .the Company Commander, rushed directly toward the house. Surprised by the suddenness and daring of his attack 14 of the enemy surrendered when he entered the building, and the remaining 15 who were in the cellar, were taken by four Co L men who assaulted the house immediately behind Lussier. The company also overcame determined resistance from a factory at the northwestern end of town and contacted Co I at 1300. During the afternoon Co L mopped up in the outskirts and at dark dug in on the southern tip. A total of 62 enemy were captured by the battalion whose total casualties for the operation were 10 wounded and two killed.
On 31 January Company K was attached to the 311th Infantry Regiment and moved to Kesternich to assist the 3rd'Battalion of the 311th Infantry Regiment in holding the town. K Company cleaned out the eastern end of Kesternich, defended it, but suffered heavy casualties in the action. The remainder of the battalion closed into billets in Simerath at 0200 1 February and remained there until the morning of 5 February.
The Third Battalion attacked Steckenborn on the morning of 5 February under the temporary command of Combat Command R of the 7th Armored division. Company K was relieved the same morning and moved back to, Simmerath where it remained throughout the, Steckenborn action. Attached to the battalion for the attack on Steckenborn was a company of tanks and a platoon of tank destroyers. The general plan called for Part of Combat Command R to seize the town of Steckenborn, while the other part seized Strauch.
At. 0630 Company L took up positions, prepared to fire on Strauch with MG's'and 60's. Due to the poor visibility Company L was unable to fire on Strauch and dug in to await orders to advance.' Both Company I and Company L were prepared to advance on Steckenborn on order of the CO of CCR. Company I was on the right t and Company. L on the left of the battalion sector. The 18th Field Artillery fired 4000 rounds of rocket tubes into. Steckenborn which it was later discovered completely terrified the Germans. At 0800-the Commanding Officer of Combat Command R ordered. the task force to begin its advance from the vicinity of Kesternich. At the same time Company L began its advance. At 0345 two platoons of tanks moved out from their line of departure at Kesternich leaving one platoon in reserve in the vicinity of Kesternich. Two tank destroyers were also assigned to each of the two infantry companies.
Company I moved from its line of departure 200 yards south of Steckenborn at 1015. The company reached the edge of town at 1030 without encountering enemy resistance.
On the left the task force from Kesternich including Company L had started into the town. At 1040 Company I reported artillery falling on their positions from cast of the Roer River and counter-battery fire was requested by the Battalion Commander on all known positions east of the river.
Company L encountered its first enemy resistance soon after entering the town. S/Sgt. Campbell, Co L's 1st platoon, led a successful assault on a pillbox, running at full speed with a beehive charge to blast open the door. S/Sgt. Essex of the 2nd platoon of Company I cleared the roads of mines so a tank, destroyer could be brought up to blast a pillbox. He completed the removal of the mines even though the enemy kept firing at him all the time. S/Sgt. Collins was killed when an "88" hit the building from which he was shooting' at the enemy. Company I was approximately two thirds of the way, through the town in its sector to the right, and reported one casualty in taking its objectives, while Company L reported that it had suffered no casualties at this time.
Company I reached the far side of the town and discovered three pillboxes beyond their position. Shaped charges and flame-throwers were requested to be brought up to destroy the pillboxes. However, Engineers were working on the to clear them of mines and two to three feet of snow, and delivery of the flame throwers and shaped charges from the Kesternich Ammunition Supply Point was delayed until late' afternoon. At 11400 the Battalion Commander requested that the two reserve tank destroyers be brought forward to assist in the capture of the pillboxes at 1500. By 1645 Company I reported one man killed and one wounded but had taken the pillboxes with the aid of the TD's. The Company continued to mop up in the northeast part of the town-with the tanks. It was necessary to clean out the three pillboxes since they would leave the Germans in a position to infiltrate back into town that night. At 1745 instructions were received from the Commanding Officer of Combat Command R to consolidate and hold the positions taken, paying particular attention to the north and northeastern positions of the town.
During the days operations Company I took 14 prisoners and Company L 41. During the operations on Steckenborn two companies with two platoon of tanks- and one section of tank destroyers had been used. Company L suffered no casualties but Company I had two enlisted men killed and one Officer and 12 Enlisted Men wounded during the day. A "moderate" amount of 'shelling took place during the operation but some casualties were incurred from it as well as from the small arms. Both companies held their positions and were passed through or. 6 February by elements of the 7th Armored Division which moved up to Hechelscheid.