The Battle for Schmidt

The battalion moved from Steckenborn into an assembly area among several blown up pillboxes north of Strauch just before dark on the 6th of February. Having fought all day and into the night the day before, the men had little trouble falling asleep after a good hot meal brought up by the, faithful kitchen crews. The night was wet and cold, but the men managed to get a little sleep in their foxholes which they lined with straw to keep from lying in the mud. During the night the battalion received orders to attack astride the road toward Schmidt, passing through the 1st and 2nd battalions whose exact location in the woods was not known, but who had been reported to have reached a well prepared road block that consisted of a steel gate backed up by a huge crater which covered the whole width of the road. The battalion was to attack east just before daylight and capture the fortifications and wooded areas at the base of the high ground which overlooked the fortified town of Schmidt. The 311th Infantry was to attack from the south on the right of the 3rd Battalion to seize the high ground overlooking Schmidt and the capture Schmidt itself. The plan of attack was as follows, Company K was to lead the attack, attacking astride the road and capture the pillboxes located all along the road at the front of the hill overlooking Schmidt. L Company echeloned to the left rear was to clean out the woods north of the road and protect the battalion left flank: I Company echeloned to the right rear was to clear out the woods south of the road and protect the right flank. Co A of the 774th Tank Battalion and two platoons of Co B 893rd Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to the battalion for the operation. One platoon of tanks and tank destroyers were to attack the pillboxes with the leading elements of Co. K. Moving through the area, which was once a German Military encampment but now a mass of shattered buildings, K Co with the 3rd platoon leading started the attack astride the road. The woods on either side of the road were studded with pillboxes, and the first light of day revealed the bodies of wounded and dead from the previous days fighting. The woods, once thickly planted pine groves, were now a mass of splintered poles, the ground covered by shattered limbs and whole Parts of trees. As the men moved on they came upon a pillbox which was converted into a hospital during the night before by an English speaking German Army doctor who was caring for more than a score of both wounded enemy and American, soldiers. A few yards further down the road was the catered road block. Lt. Blackburn and his engineer platoon cleared a path to the right of the road for the tanks, which a few minutes later caught up with the riflemen, who had just made a welcome contact at Gelensbeig, with the remnants of G Company who had been out of contact with their battalion throughout the long night before. First enemy fire was drawn when the men moved east from Gelensburg. The 3rd Platoon aggressively outflanked an enemy group defending a pillbox on the left of the road and in a few minutes 13 enemy with their hands locked behind their heads were marching to the rear. About this time the Kraut artillery fire started coming in. The leading tanks deployed off to the left of the road to join the fight, but were halted when they came upon a minefield. Capt. Owens had already dispatched Pfc Norwood back to the roadblock where the engineers were working and as a result work was begun to clear a path just about the time when the tanks were halted. Pvt. Falk of the Engineer squad, dissatisfied with the progress of the work put himself in charge and the men inspired by his example began pulling mines out of the ground like mad. Artillery shells were whistling in but the men kept right on working. Only one mine was left and the path would be clear. Someone remembered at this time that they were taught to, pull mines with a long rope because the Germans sometimes booby trapped them so they used a rope on this last one. As they yanked the rope there was a terrific explosion no one was scratched, the rope had saved their life. Pvt. Falk was wounded a few minutes later while he was removing mines from the road because he was too busy to duck when a Kraut shell whistled in. The attack moved swiftly when the tanks came up only one more pillbox and the right half of the battalion objective would be secured, A few rounds from the tanks and a rush by the 3rd platoon took this one. The platoon with the tanks' inspired by their own success did not stop and went on toward Schmidt capturing pillbox after pillbox. Capt. Hope, Bn S 3, was riding in the lead tank in order to co-ordinate their efforts with those of the 3rd Platoon. He was wounded while leaning out of his tank going over plans with Lt. Friedberg, 3rd platoon leader, when a terrific artillery concentration fell on their position. Sgt. Jack Rogers, noted for his exploits with his grenade launcher was wounded at the same time along with several others. T/Sgt. Daniels, Plt. Sgt. of the 3rd Platoon, who began the attack at the rear of his platoon was now leading the assault along with Lt. Applegate, Mortar Observer. T/Sgt. Sablin led the 3rd platoon around to the left recapturing Capt. Murphy, Co G, who was captured the night before, but who in. the meantime had talked the bewildered Kraut soldiers into surrendering. Prisoners were swarming in droves to the rear as the Ist platoon pulled up abreast of the third platoon. When the Company halted to reorganize they were sitting on the high ground overlooking Schmidt six hundred yards away. They had captured what was to have been the initial objective of the 311th Infantry.

L Company moving through the woods on the left suffered many casualties from one of the heaviest enemy artillery concentrations ever witnessed. Among, the wounded was Lt. Schenck, the fearless leader of the 3rd Platoon. The Company captured a number of pillboxes in the woods taking the confused Germans by surprise and moved abreast of K Co on the left and occupying the high ground overlooking Kommerscheid. Co I cleared the woods south of the road and to the right of K Co. They too came under terrific artillery fire, but were more fortunate than Co L. Lt. Fields, the popular section leader of Co M, Mortar Observer with Co I, was killed when a Kraut mortar shell fell beside him. The battalion halted on order and was passed through in the late afternoon by the 3rd Battalion, 311th Infantry whose objective was Schmidt. The Battalion C. P. was established in the first pillbox captured by K Co's 3rd platoon. It served as Regimental C. P. and was visited by General Parker, Division Commander, and General Collins the Corps Commander the following day when the battalion was fighting for Schmidt. Casualties for the days operations were 4 killed and 38 wounded.

The night was cold and wet just like the night before and the men hardly slept at all. Orders were received during the night that the 310th Infantry with 3rd Battalion leading would clear the road from Schmidt to Heimbach, seizing the high ground over the Roer River, thereby cutting off the troops in the vicinity of the dam. It was reported that Schmidt had been captured and that the 3rd Battalion would pass through the 311th Infantry and start the attack some where east of Schmidt. The battalion moved out at 0530 and a few minutes later were met by Major Kennedy who commanded the Ist Battalion, 311th Infantry at the western entrance of the town. He reported that friendly troops of the 3rd Battalion 311th Infantry were dug in a hundred yards ahead and that the enemy was still holding out in the town. This information proved to be correct because the third platoon of I Company drew fire from houses on three sides at daylight as they started moving into the town. Lt. Kelley, 3rd platoon leader rose firing his "Grease Gun" in an effort to rally his men forward, but he was quickly cut down with a few others who followed his example. Lt. Perrin who brought the tanks and TD's up to join the attack of the 3rd platoon tried to point out the houses where the fire was coming from to a tank commander but each time he crawled up on the tank a sniper would try to pick him off. The first platoon of Co I was thrown in on the north flank of the third platoon while the 2nd platoon worked along the south flank to reduce the resistance on the flanks of the third platoon. With the three platoons abreast the Company began a slow, but steady advance through the town. The Germans defended practically every house and stubbornly fell back to help defend succeeding houses. Many dead enemy were found in the houses and the moaning of the enemy wounded could be heard interspersed with the firing. The first platoon working with the' light machine-gun section on the north side of the town was under continual enemy machine-gun fire. I coming from Harscheidt, the village northeast of Schmidt which supposedly h taken by American troops but apparently now had not. Using the piles of rubble for protection against this fire the men kept right on fighting the enemy in Schmidt. Private Norman A. Funk, leading scout of his platoon distinguished himself by aggressively leading his platoon from house to house blazing away with his M-1 and pitching grenades, into windows and doorways, but his luck didn't last and he paid, the supreme price. Sergeant Erickson was killed with a hand grenade while leading his squad through the piles of rubble. T/Sgt. Carlson along with Sgt. Simmons squad, shooting out of windows in a house they had just entered had a field day shooting Krauts, at a range of one hundred yards. They picked them off one by one as they tried to escape to the shelter of a pillbox from a house which was under attack. Seventeen bodies were counted later along the path that they ran for shelter. Finally at 1430 after fighting their way through the many pillboxes and fortified houses and piles of rubble, the men reached the eastern end of the town. Schmidt, the key to the defenses of the Schwammanual Dam, was now captured and the remainder of the battalion moved forward through the town to gain its mission, that of clearing the road, Heimbach, and capturing the high ground one overlooking the Roer River.

When the medical section of the 3rd Battalion moved into Schmidt it was necessary to establish the aid station in a cellar. Evacuation there was a problem since the troops were exposed-and had to be evacuated by Weasel. Capt. Colwell made the rounds like a regular country doctor, visiting each company under enemy observation.

Pfc. Charles T. Kelley found two ambulances at a Nazi aid station at Schmidt. One these: he got running and evacuated, many with it.

Lt. Janes, the 'Battalion S 2, observing from the upper story of a house in Schmidt a few moments after its capture, located several enemy machine gun positions astride the road on the high ground in the vicinity of Nuennhof about 2000 yards east of Schmidt. With this information a coordinated attack was planned for 1600 with Co L advancing east from Schmidt, attacking astride the road to capture the high ground in the vicinity of Schiedbaum about 1500 yards east of Schmidt. K Cc was to take a covered route through the woods to the right of L Co and capture the wooded knoll southeast of Scheidbaum and then envelope the enemy positions in the vicinity of Nuennhof. Plans for artillery and mortar fire to be delivered on the enemy positions located by Lt. Janes were made. At 1530 elements of the 2nd Battalion 311th Infantry were seen advancing east in K Co s zone of attack. This called f or a change in plans which resulted in L Company attacking alone with K Co to follow in column. At 1545 word was received that the artillery would not fire because friendly, troops of the 311th Infantry were located in the area. This was found later to be incorrect, but Company L jumped off at 1600 without artillery support. Two platoons of tanks started with the attack but after advancing about five hundred yards, three tanks were hit by fire from a group of five enemy tanks located on the road between Scheidbaum and Nuennhof. That ended the tank support for L Company. 'The 1st and 3rd platoons personally led by Lt.'s Barzeley and Ober continued the attack in spite of withering machine gun fire. With a handful of men they reached the few buildings which comprised the settlement of Scheidbaum where they came under fire from the five enemy tanks, which a few minutes ago had knocked out their friendly tanks. Pfc. Garcia with Pfc. Lussier assisting fired a few bazooka rounds at the leading tank, setting it on fire from the upper story of one of the houses. A few seconds after they clambered down the steps with one precious bazooka round left, the house collapsed from a barrage fired by the tanks. At this time men from the First Battalion coming up on the left with marching fire were a most welcome sight, It was almost dark now, the enemy tanks and machine guns were still blazing away, and no artillery fire on them could be obtained because of faulty information of friendly troops being located there. The men dug in when darkness set in. During the night word was received that the 60th Infantry of the 9th Division would pass through our lines east of Schmidt prior to daylight in the morning and proceed down the road to Heimbach. Hot chow and ammunition were brought up during the night and plans were made resuming the. attack the following morning on the left flank of the 60th Infantry to secure the high ground overlooking the Roer River at Aberden and Blens thereby securing the left flank of the 9th Division. At 0700 the 60th Infantry passed through L Companies positions and were stopped by machine gun fire from the positions which held up Co. L the night before, but the enemy tanks had pulled out during the night. At 1000 men from Co C. 310th Infantry outflanked these positions from the north allowing the 60th Infantry to advance. In the meantime the battalion with Co K leading was pushing out to the northeast entering the woods north and east of Scheidbaum. The woods was filled with fanatical enemy who had just destroyed their own artillery pieces and had taken up firing positions in dugouts manning machine guns and rifles. The fire was deadly accurate and took a heavy toll in lives. Within a five minute period, Sgt. Sielski and Pvts. Siemon, Carlberg, and Pickering fell mortally wounded. Privates Benreiff, Pasquale, Bennett and Fisher also of K Co died in this action. Lt. Saunders, Co K's fighting executive officer arrived in a nick of time with the third platoon and two tanks which had become separated from the company as a result of the intermingling, of units of the 1st Bn 310th and the 60th Infantry with those of the 3rd Battalion. The tanks zigzagging their way through the trees with the 3rd platoon close at hand soon broke up the fanatical enemy defenders, many of whom fought to their death. K Company reached its final objective and shortly after noon the men were looking down at the river below and were viewing the destroyed bridges over the river at Blens and Abenden. L Company with Lt. Ober in Command as a result of Capt. Hunter being wounded and evacuated in the morning, pulled up on K Companies left overlooking the town of Blens. The woods which K Co had fought through was littered with enemy dead, but among the enemy dead there lay the bodies of several men of the 3rd Battalion. In addition to K Co's dead there was Lt. Mullins and Pvt. Robabowski of Co L who were ambushed while reconnoitering their position. Through the tireless efforts of Major Pierce, the A & P Platoon and the Anti-Tank Platoon, a road was built through mine fields and mud holes and with the aid of Company carrying parties the men got a little hot food the first night. By noon of the following day, Pfc. Dragon drove his weasel loaded with hot chow and ammunition to the company positions, some of which were difficult to reach even on foot. Nobody slept at all the first night on account of the rain and the fact that holes had to be dug. By dark of the second night, bedrolls had been brought up and the men had covers constructed over their holes to protect them from, the weather and from the deadly enemy artillery.

Under cover of darkness on the night of February 12, the first and second platoons of Co L preceded by a patrol led by Sergeant Pologi slipped into Blens and occupied the town without firing a shot. The few enemy who were left in the village were captured by surprise the following morning. The occupation of this town remained unknown to the enemy. The one rifle platoon from Co L and the machine gun platoon of Company M which comprised the occupying force was fed and supplied by carrying parties at night. They supplemented their rations by milking a cow every night, which they had found in a barn. However one night Lt. Nolph and Sgt. Pologi, who never bothered to be scared by the enemy, got a big scare when they tried to milk a bull in the darkness. From their positions in Blens the men would call down artillery and mortar fire on enemy positions just across the river a few hundred yards away.

On the morning of February 14, Company L's Command Post was subjected to the most deadly and accurate mortar concentration ever encountered, causing over twenty casualties. Lt. Saunders, who had just taken command of L Company when Lt. Ober left the Company to take command of Company B in the first battalion, was mortally wounded. Also mortally, wounded were Corporal De Loach the courageous communications sergeant, and Pvts. Buchmann, Rosenbaum, Torres and Tester. The remainder of the month of February was spent in recuperating from the fighting which carried the battalion from Konzen to the Roer River and in training for the fighting to come. The men worked on small unit problems, bayonet training, and firing of the BAR, Bazooka, and rifle grenades. During this period two patrols from Co I, both led by S/Sgt. Field crossed the Roer River to capture a prisoner for the Division G 2. On their first try they ran into too many of the enemy and had to shoot their way out killing a number of the enemy in doing so. On their second attempt, they came back empty handed because the enemy had taken off into the hills. Lt. Perrin, Bn S 3, Sgt. Sloop, second platoon of K Company and Pfc. Wheeler crossed the river at dusk in an assault boat to reconnoiter and clear a path trough an enemy anti-personnel minefield. In the vicinity of "'Blue". The patrol removed home made box mines which were brought back to the 3rd Bn for training purposes.

The "Blue" Battalion "Blue" being the code word used for the 3rd Bn of Infantry Regiments, had not only tasted combat but had taken several good swallows. They were seasoned combat Infantrymen now and in their hearts was love, admiration and respect for their fellowmen, their officers and an undivided loyalty to their duty.