THE DASBURG - PRUM RIVER CAMPAIGN
By February 1 the division's mission had been changed to "patrol to and across the Our River, prevent enemy infiltration across the Our, prepare plans to cross the Our and be prepared to attack northeast to the Kyll River."
The 86th was attached to Reserve Command, which was chosen to establish a bridgehead since it was familiar with the terrain.
It was February 7 before successful crossings were achieved above and below the Kalborn-Dahnen road by reinforced companies from the 9th and 44th Infantry Battalions. Troop C took up position on the north flank the next day as the 44th moved its entire force across the river and enlarged its bridgehead. Troop B was among forces crossing the river on February 9 as Reserve Command continued to enlarge and strengthen its bridgehead.
CCB relieved Reserve Command and assumed responsibility for the bridgehead zone on February 10 and the 86th, assigned to CCB, established contact with the 1lth Armored Division on the north flank at the junction of the Luxembourg and German borders just west of the Our. CCB of the 1lth relieved the 86th on February 12 and the Forward Echelon moved into Heinerscheid. Troop D relieved Troop B and extended the main line of resistance another 200 yards south to the left flank of the 50th Infantry Battalion.
The situation remained fairly stable as the division held and defended its bridgehead until February 20, when it initiated an attack on the Siegfried Line. The 86th, supplemented by two platoons of tanks from the 68th and a squad of Engineers, was designated as Combat Team 86 (Brindle) and assigned to CCB, which made the main effort on the north flank with CT 86, CT 9 and CT 44.
Troop D captured pillboxes 32 and 33, which it turned over to a platoon from Troop A. Another platoon from Troop A, supported by a platoon of medium tanks, assaulted and captured pillboxes 24 and 25 and continued the advance through pill boxes 21, 26, 27 and 29. A third platoon of Troop A moved up and occupied pill boxes that had been cleared.
CT 86 and CT 44 continued to mop up and secure the north boundary on February 21 while awaiting the arrival of the 11th Armored Division, attacking from the north. Contact with the 11th was made northwest of Irrhausen the following day after CT 86 had cleared the woods southwest of Reipeldingen.
Pinched out of its zone by the 90th Infantry Division and 6th Cavalry Group, the 6th Armored Division reorganized its command and relieved 90th troops in a new zone west of the Prum River. The 86th remained with CCB and was supplemented by a platoon of medium tanks and a platoon of tank destroyers. Troop A was attached to CCA and assigned to CT 9.
Division received orders to attack across the Prum on February 27, and shortly before midnight three patrols from Troop A crossed the river with the mission of securing the high ground to the east. The objectives were seized and consolidated and, although depleted by heavy casualties, the troop withstood heavy artillery and mortar fire, wiped out enemy patrols and defeated counterattacks by superior forces. For 40 hours without food and water they held the most advanced points of the bridgehead, enabling other forces to cross and secure the bridgehead.
For this accomplishment Troop A was awarded the Distinguished Unit Citation.
Pat Mitchell, writing in "Stars and Stripes", gave this version of the action:
"Cut off from all division support and pounded steadily by treebursting artillery, the 36 men of Able troop held their toehold across the Prum River for 40 hours and beat off four enemy combat patrols and one counterattack. When finally relieved only 16 men could walk back.
"The battle plan called for two crossings in the area of Kinzenburg with Infantry following assault platoons of the 86th Cavalry Recon Squadron. But one crossing fizzled when the Germans heard the doughs stumble against anti-personnel mines after wading the Prum.
"The 36 men of the other assault team led by Capt. Alden Berg, Hawley, Minn., waded the Prum and ran into thick mine fields, waded back, went up the river 500 yards and crossed again. Overrunning a Jerry outpost, they made their objective when a firefight taking place at a lower crossing tipped off the Germans all along the Prum line. The enemy immediately swept the river with intense automatic fire which slowed the Infantry forces following up.
"Guided by 2nd Lt. Robert Smith, Van Buren, Ark., the Able troopers took off for their second objective, more than a mile from the river crossing, and entrenched themselves in an acre patch of pine woods.
"By then every Kraut in Germany was wise to the crossings and we were cut off from support," Smith said. 'Our radio went out and all we could do was wait. We had two BARs and grease guns and one bazooka, but the bazooka ammo was lost crossing the river.'
"Eugene Quesenberry of Cranes, Va., a private when the river crossing began and a platoon sergeant before his men finally were relieved, said:
"Everything was quiet for the first four hours. One patrol came in on us but we absorbed them, so to speak. Then another patrol came along and we chopped them up, too."
"I guess that by then the Germans began to think we had something, so they threw in the heaviest artillery and mortar barrage possible.
"After the barrage lifted, Smith checked and found 26 men left in fighting condition and had barely returned to his hole when a German infantry attack began.
"Charlie Cole of Burlington, N. C., who started the operation as an assistant squad leader and ended up a platoon sergeant, said: "About 50 of them came down a slope towards our patch of woods. We let 'em come in close and then opened up on them. I don't know how many we nailed, but I could count 12 lying out there on the face of the slope."
"Meanwhile, Capt. Berg managed to get the radio working and brought it up to Smith's men. He then began evacuation of the wounded. 'When we got back to the steep river bank it was impossible to carry a litter down, so those wounded in the legs volunteered to slide down on their bellies,' Berg said.
The following afternoon Smith's men were relieved by Infantry pushing through.
Led by Smith, the 16 men who walked back were: Quesenberry, Cole, (Cpl. Clyde W.) Golden, (Sgt. Eugene C.) Hall, Cpl. Paul Snider, Youngwood, Pa., T5 Clare Snyder, York, Pa., Cpl. David Beaver, Detroit, Pfc. Sam Preston, Meally, Ky., T5 Henry-J. Dado, Amsterdam, N.Y., Pfc. Robert B. White, Peoria, Ill., Pfc. Charles W. Benold, Pittsfield, Mass, Lee Jones, Blairsville, Ga., T5 Ray G. Bryan and Pfcs. Soloman E. Prowell, Etters, Pa., Carl Simone, Cincinnati, and Horace Harter, Nonenpath, S.C.
Among the A Troopers killed in the operation were Sgt. Aubrey T. Garrigus, Sgt. Frank S. Higgins, Pfc. George D. Coons, Pfc. Stephen A. Klepeiss and Pvt. Earl Miller Jr. Among those wounded were T4 Robert A. Tracy Jr., Cpl. John T. McDermott, T5 Henry V. Healy, Pfc. Hoyt Ashmore, Pfc. Malcolm H. Burdett, Pfc. Martin J. Lawlor, Pfc. Vernon Wickman, Pvt. James P. Bishop Jr.,Pvt. Richard J. Caldwell, Pvt. Robert Hughes, Pvt. James H. Laytham and Pvt. Clyde L. Marsch.
Sgt. Garrigus, who previously had lost an eye in combat but had insisted on rejoining Troop A, Sgt. Higgins, Pfc. Klepeiss and Pvt. Miller all were awarded the Silver Star Medal posthumously.
Sgt. Garrigus prior to his death had conducted himself gallantly in action, leading two patrols in dangerous reconnaissance missions and killing an enemy officer and five enlisted men with a grenade when his patrol was pinned down by enemy fire. He was killed by an artillery shell while placing guards on outposts. Following the war a barracks located on 13th Cavalry Road at Ft. Knox was named "Garrigus Hall" in his honor.
While Troop A was holding its bridgehead, Troops B and D made a reconnaissance of the area west of the Prum the night of the 26th and dug in the next day prior to advancing across the Prum. 1st Lt. Herman H. Kiehne of Troop D was killed by shrapnel while making sure his platoon was properly secured.
On February 28, a seven-man patrol from Troop D was sent to Pronsfeld, crossed the Prum at 0400 and secured the high ground just north of Luenebach by 1000, making contact with the left flank of the 50th Infantry Battalion. Troop B sent a combat patrol to Pronsfeld and Troop E and Company F relieved elements of the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. CT 86 outposted the town of Pronsfeld.
Maj. Brindle's summary for the period:
"This was a 28-day period of continuous operations. The period opened by relieving the 1st Battalion of the 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, on a 1,500-yard front. The mission was to contain the enemy east of the Our River. Our sector was expanded to 3,000 yards upon relief of the 90th Cavalry Troop and B Company, 357th Infantry Battalion, 90th Infantry Division. We established a bridgehead across the Our River, and on the 20th of February passed completely through the Siegfried Line in 24 hours.
"The scope of operations included every phase of military tactics during this period."
"We consider the squadron a veteran, seasoned and reliable operational unit, and capable of participating in any type of operational plan.
"The reinforcements during this period proved to be good soldier material, but not up to the par of previous reinforcements."
A Bailey bridge was thrown across the Prum and CT 86, which had regained
Troop A, jumped off at 0630 on March 1 and was just short of the proposed extent of the division bridgehead when pinned down by very heavy machine gun fire. Elements attempting to reach the summit of the hill east of Pronsfeld were forced to retire under the machine gun fire and observed artillery fire. Another attempt was made after reorganization but failed because the enemy had excellent observation and any movement by troops was brought under fire.
The CT, commanded at that time by Maj. Kennon, was ordered to improve its position, dig in for the night and keep probing enemy positions.
Troop B cleared the woods north of Pronsfeld March 2 and occupied Ellwerath
early the following morning before being relieved by the 3rd Battalion, 357th Infantry Regiment. Troop C, despite extensive anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, took Giesdorf and also was relieved by elements of the 90th Infantry Division. Squadron moved from Pronsfeld to Strickscheid and then on to Sevenig, where it was to spend the next several days repairing and refitting for future operations as the 90th Infantry Division assumed responsibility for the division zone on March 4.
The 6th Armored Division passed into SHAEF Reserve, the first time the entire division had been out of the front lines since Troop A (reinforced) kicked off the action on July 27, 1944. For 221 consecutive days elements of the division, and of the squadron, had engaged in action.
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