THE SAAR CAMPAIGN
The situation remained static as far as the 86th was concerned until the Third Army initiated its projected drive through the Saar Valley and on to the Rhine. The 6th Armored Division's role within XII Corps was to cross the Seille River, attack through the 80th Infantry Division and secure the Falquemont area until relieved by the 80th in addition to destroying any enemy forces withdrawing from Metz.
With Troop A assigned to Reserve Command and Troop C to CCA, the remainder of the 86th was attached to CCB and designated as Task Force Brindle with detachments of the 777th AAA Battalion, 603rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, 25th Armored Engineer Battalion and 212th Field Artillery Battalion in direct support.
TF Brindle was given a mission on November 9 to precede CCB and secure a bridgehead across the Nied River at Anvirville and Remilly and continue in the general direction of the high ground south of Falquemont.
The Task Force crossed the flooded Seille River with considerable difficulty and after passing through elements of the 80th at Eply made first contact with the enemy when it encountered anti-tank guns west of Alemont. A blown bridge across the River de Moince delayed the advance until the Engineers replaced the span, limiting progress for the day to the Haut Moince area.
TF Brindle took Vigny the next day despite the presence of guns of 75mm caliber in the outskirts of the town and even larger guns to the northeast. A call for artillery fire from the 212th resulted in the silencing of the guns and the command moved to a bivouac area near Buchy, which had been captured by Task Force Lagrew (15th Tank Battalion).
TF Brindle followed TF Lagrew through Beux to Aube on November 11, receiving artillery fire all along the route. Troop D plus headquarters section and the third and fourth assault gun platoons from Troop E were attached to TF Lagrew and Company F and the first and second assault gun platoons of Troop E were attached to Task Force Wall (50th Infantry Battalion).
The elements of the 86th with TF Lagrew, plus a section of tank destroyers from the 603rd, were designated as Task Force Bridges, under command of Troop D CO Capt. Jimmie H. Bridges, and rushed to the east side of the newly captured Sanry-Sur-Nied bridge to help protect and enlarge the bridgehead. At the time only two platoons of medium tanks were across the bridge and the Germans were laying in intermittent fire in the form of artillery and 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft on the road junction just east of the bridge.
TP Bridges managed to slip past the fire without losses and that night and the next morning pushed toward Bazoncourt and, acting as Infantry, screened the tanks and covered the road from Bazoncourt back to the bridge.
Late on the evening of November 12 TF Bridges was given the mission of moving through Bazoncourt and then swinging northeast to the road junction just south of Berlize. Here the Task Force was to block the road and protect the north flank of TF Lagrew during the next day's attack by the main body of TF Lagrew toward Chanville.
Partly through misinformation and partly through the numerical superiority of the enemy, the next 24 hours found TF Bridges losing one-third of its men and a large percentage of its vehicles and equipment in successfully carrying out its mission.
Capt. Bridges had no daylight in which to make a reconnaissance of the zone in which he was operating because he did not arrive at the road junction and close into position until 2200 on November 12. He was not as concerned as much as he would have been had he known the true enemy situation, because before he arrived he was told by TF Lagrew headquarters that the town of Berlize was in the hands of friendly units (Presumably the 2nd Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, operating on the immediate north flank).
During the night, however, TP Bridges outposts were active in breaking up three separate patrols of three or four men each coming into their defensive area.
Capt. Bridges placed one platoon of Troop D on each side of the Berlize Maizeroy road and north of the Chanville-Domangeville road. Also astride the road in similar position were the third and fourth platoons of Troop E's 75mm howitzers and the two M18 76mm tank destroyers. Troop D's headquarters section and a third platoon were to the south defending the Bois de Bazoncourt, in which Capt. Bridges had his CP. Less than 600 yards separated his outposts from the center of Berlize.
The first snow of the year fell that night, covering the ground about three inches and making visibility extremely poor as November 13 dawned.
At that time 1st Lt. Isidore Pazereckas, assault gun platoon leader, visited Capt. Bridges' CP and asked if the CO was sure of the information concerning friendly troops in Berlize. He stated that he could see all kinds of dismounted activity going on in the town, but that it was not light enough to ascertain definitely if they were Americans. They did not act like friendly troops, said Lt. Pazereckas, who also was disturbed that there seemed to be too many of them out in front to be friendly troops.
Capt. Bridges immediately got on his FM radio to verify the report that there were friendly troops in Berlize, but before he could get through "all hell broke loose."
"I really learned a lesson at that time never to depend completely on anybody's word," Capt. Bridges was to tell interviewer Capt. James J. Cowen later. "I knew the information had been passed on to me in good faith so I believed it and didn't make as thorough a reconnaissance of the situation as I normally would have if I hadn't been told anything."
It was estimated that the Germans had an Infantry force of 700 men in Berlize supported by two tanks of undetermined model and 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns that could be depressed and used against ground troops.
Because Capt. Bridges was uncertain as to whether or not to fire for fear of firing on friendly troops, the Germans, with weapons heavier and of higher velocity, got the jump on his Task Force and in the next 30 minutes knocked out three armored cars, two M8 assault guns, one halftrack and seven peeps. Meanwhile, Troop E's assault guns pumped out 42 rounds on the enemy tanks and finally knocked out one of them.
Capt. Bridges got through to TF Lagrew shortly after the fire opened up and was told to hold on at all costs, that help in the form of a medium tank company was being sent to him.
Capt. Bridges asked the Lagrew headquarters for artillery and when it didn't come for what to him seemed like a long time, he went through the 86th with his request. Shortly thereafter fire was laid down on Berlize and the enemy positions.
After awaiting in vain 30 minutes for help to come and with 13 vehicles knocked out and 29 casualties on hand, the Task Force pulled back 1,000 yards to a position astride the Berlize-Bazoncourt road just south of the Bois de Bazoncourt. Maj. Brindle was contacted and told that if help was not sent or something done about the situation the whole command would be lost.
Maj. Brindle arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and after looking over the situation ordered a tank platoon from Company F to be dispatched immediately and attached to TF Bridges. He also complimented the troops on a very outstanding job deserving the highest praise.
"That was the day I was so mad when they wouldn't send me any help I sat down and cried," Capt. Bridges said later.
However, it developed that TP Lagrew at the time had its hands full on the other part of its front to the south.
Artillery landed in the Bazoncourt area at the rate of two rounds per minute for the rest of the day while the embattled men of Troops D and E, protected in defilade behind a hill that sloped into Bazoncourt, dug in deeply and sweated out the artillery coming in from forts surrounding the city of Metz to the north.
While taking this terrific punishment TF Bridges also was throwing everything it had at the enemy, as evidenced by the fact that the Germans, obviously in an aggressive state of mind and superior in number, were unable to reach the road junction where the Task Force was first located even though they had driven the command 1,000 yards to the south.
Capt. Bridges believed that the Germans were intercepting FM radio messages. For instance, after dark, Capt. Bridges received a message from TF Lagrew: "Okay, Bridges, you can move out now." Right after receiving the message, Capt. Bridges said, the worst artillery barrage he or any of his men ever had seen came in on them.
This was at a time when the division was allowed to abandon the Sanry bridge head sector or move south to cross the Han bridge.
TF Bridges finally was able to pull out, but it suffered further losses before it could move down the east bank of the river and close into the squadron area near Herny, where it reverted to control of TF Brindle.
In the three-day action TF Bridges lost 39 men (four killed and the rest wounded or missing), six armored cars, two assault guns, one halftrack, seven peeps, two trailers and one tank destroyer. The TD was recovered about a week later.
It was during this action that S/Sgt. Irvin C. Shoemaker of Troop D earned the Silver Star. With his platoon conducting a roadblock and subjected to a heavy concentration of fire, Sgt. Shoemaker ran 75 yards to an armored car and evacuated seriously wounded Everett Black. With a dozen weapons pouring small arms fire at him, Sgt. Shoemaker carried the wounded man on his back for 50 yards before getting help in taking him another 25 yards to safety. Then Sgt. Shoemaker returned to his own vehicle and led his platoon in successfully repelling a counterattack.
Meanwhile, CCB launched an attack toward the Nied and TF Brindle established an advance CP at Daiu-en-Saulnois. 1st Lt. John D. Fay of Troop B was wounded by enemy artillery fire while his platoon was securing and holding a crossroad east of Silly-en-Saulnois and died of concussion shortly thereafter.
Troop B, reinforced by two assault guns from Troop E and a platoon of light tanks from Company F, was sent to protect the Sanry bridge and block the approaches on November 12. The bridge came under attack from artillery, mortars, ack-ack and smallarms fire, and when S3 Capt. Steve C. Bohunicky went forward to check out the situation he received a fatal wound from an artillery fragment.
Capt. Frederick H. Eickhoff took over as S3 and 1st Lt. Alden L. Berg was appointed CO of Troop A.
TF Brindle turned over defense of the Sanry bridgehead to the 2nd Infantry Regiment on November 14 and four days later was placed in Reserve Command with all troops in the fold except Company F, which was attached to CCB.
The squadron, under artillery fire of a harassing nature through November 24, sent Troop D on a Reserve Command mission to patrol several towns in the area and to establish a bridge guard at Han-Sur-Nied. One platoon of Troop B was attached to CCA on November and the remainder of the troop followed the next day. The rest of the period through November 30 was spent largely on patrols and bridge guard.
Maj. Brindle's summary of the period:
"CCB's plan was to send a light, fast Task Force ahead of the other two heavier Task Forces with the idea of bypassing the towns en route, avoiding becoming seriously engaged with the enemy and reaching the Nied-Francaise River without delay. However, due to weather conditions and the nature of the terrain, which restricted movement of vehicles to the road net, this light Task Force was not completely successful in its mission. Heavier enemy resistance than expected plus poor vehicular standing necessitated medium tanks and Infantry in the make up of the Task Forces in order to reduce enemy resistance in towns as they were encountered.
"Successive missions given the squadron, such as roadblocks, flank protection, rear-guard liaison and reconnaissance, were successfully accomplished.
"The flotation of the armored car over soft terrain is practically nil; therefore the use of this vehicle was restricted to road nets during this period.
"Enemy artillery fire caused ninety percent of the casualties during the period. However, considering the amount of artillery fire the squadron was subjected to, losses were light.
"Replacements received in officers and enlisted personnel were completely satisfactory."
Squadron headquarters was located in Bertring going into December, and there it remained until the third anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day before marching 29 miles to Merlebach. Troops A, C and D, each with one assault gun platoon from Troop E, relieved elements of the 42nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Mechanized, 6th Cavalry Group, with Troop A's CP in Morsbach, Troop C's in St. Nikolaus, Germany, and Troop D's in Rosbach. Thus the C Troopers became the first unit of the 6th Armored Division to move onto German soil.
The squadron's mission was to fill the gap between the 6th Cavalry Group on the left and the 44th Infantry Battalion on the right.
The situation remained unchanged until December 23, when advance elements of the 103rd Infantry Division arrived to relieve the squadron. The 86th departed at 1445 on Christmas Eve, pulling back to Metz en route to the next phase--the Battle of the Bulge.
Go to "The Ardennes Campaign" or "Table of Contents" page.