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US Army

Tank Battalion Escapes St Vith Trap

 

Tank Battalion Escapes St Vith Trap
 
After participating in combat action night and day from December 17-23, 1944, in the vicinity of St Vith, Belgium, we received an order on the morning of December 23rd to withdraw from the area to a line set up by the 82nd Airborne Division.
 
We had been in St Vith four or five days before I realize that there was a general attack other than the combat in our area.  I heard on BBC radio that the brightest spot on the whole front was at St Vith to my surprise.  Then, I realized there were attacks up and down the line.
 
On the morning of December 23, 1944, about 5:30, I heard orders on the radio and the plans and orders by which we should disengage and withdraw from the area.  I understand at this time that Combat Command was using our 14th Tank Battalion Headquarters as its command post since it was not save to have the company commanders meet at Combat Command "B" (CCB) Headquarters to receive orders because the enemy was in the whole area.
 
The order was for my Company "C" to lead the 1st Platoon under Lieutenant Morrison's leading.  We withdrew to an area to the west and to a line being held by the 82nd Airborne.  We expected to have a little rest that night but, after servicing our tanks, gassing up and cleaning our guns and eating a warm meal, we received orders to move out shortly after dark.  Again, the 3rd Platoon was leading.  I did not know our destination at that time but on the way we met a Colonel Swift, who flagged us down and asked to speak to the commanding officer who was directly behind the 3rd Platoon.  This was Lieutenant Colonel Leonard E. Engeman, who commanded the 14th Tank Battalion.
 
Colonel Swift told Lieutenant Colonel Engeman who he was and that he had orders from Corps Headquarters to get any outfit he could find and use them.  He told our Commanding Officer could get authentication by radio from headquarters.  Swift then canted our Commanding Officer to give orders to the leading platoon leader, Lieutenant Morrison.  Swift told Morrison that the Germans had broken through with Tiger tanks and SS Panzer Grenadiers.  He ordered to go to a village and set up a roadblock to stop the Germans.  We arrived at the village, set up the roadblock and waited all night with no action.  We were still at noon on December 24th.
 
Sometime after lunch, Lieutenant Morrison told me he has orders to support the 82nd Airborne in the village they were trying to recapture.  Later that afternoon, we moved forward in a line with Lieutenant Morrison on the extreme right and my tanks on the extreme left.  As we moved in this formation, we received orders from Lieutenant Morrison to turn left 90 degrees.  We were then in a column with my tank leading and Lieutenant Morrison bringing up the rear.  Three tanks were between us.
 
We had moved a short distance when I received the first hit which was on the barrel of my tank gun.  The second one hit the motor, the third was underneath my feet.  Then I heard the explosion of shells in our ammunition.  That is when I gave the order to bail out.
 
As we got out, I saw three other tanks being hit consecutively – that is all the other tanks except that of Lieutenant Morrison.  There was a small ravine and all the men gathered there with me.  I gave the order for the men to scatter out and make it back to our lines.
 
All, four tanks were knocked out.  I was the only one wounded in a tank.  My gunner was wounded after he left our tank.  In withdrawal, I was on the extreme right, come to an 82nd Airborne position and they evacuated me to the hospital.
 
When the first round hit my tank gun, small fragments of the AP shell hit me in the face and numbed it.  I had not shaved for several days and the blood from the wounds froze on my face.  Even though only slightly wounded, I had the appearance of having been through a sausage grinder.
 
The sun appeared on December 24th.  This was the first day the air force came out in mass formation.  I think they were bombing Manhay.  There were so many airplanes and so many groups that I could not attempt to count them.
 
As for our physical condition, we were very tired, having no sleep nor rest for some time.  We were not particularly hungry since we were given two hotcakes with a spoonful of jam and lukewarm coffee that morning.
 
I was evacuated by the 82nd Airborne medics as was my gunner, Leon Sobrisiki, who had also been wounded.  Our own company did not know what happened to us with the result that we were carried as missing in action for a while.
 
I was evacuated to Liege, Belgium, and then to the first General Hospital in Paris, arriving on January 1, 1945.  I returned to my tank company and was wounded again seriously on April 12 and remained in the hospital for more than two years.  My Platoon Leader, Lieutenant Hugh Morrison, was killed in action on April 19, 1945.
 

ADDENDUM

 
In his account of this combat action in which four tanks were knocked out, he reported he was wounded and evacuated by medics of the 82nd Airborne but this was not known by his Company "C" Commander nor by the 14th Tank Battalion Headquarters.As a result, the following telegram resulted:

"Govt-WUX Washington DC Jan 13, 13 100 rP. Mrs Katherine B. Thompson, Route 1, Jacksonville, Ala Rte Anniston.

The Secretary of War desires me to express deep regret that your husband Staff Sergeant Meron J. Thompson has been reported missing in action since 24 December in Belgium.  If further details or information are received you will be promptly notified—Dunlop Acting Adjutant General."

 
But a second message followed later:

"Washington DC 251 A Jn 21, 1945.  Mrs Katherine B Thompson (sic)Reference me telegram thirty January, and a letter of fifteen January report now received you husband stall (sic) Sgt Meron J. Thompson was slightly wounded in action twenty four December in Belgium and is not missing in action as previously reported.  Mail address follows direct from hospital with details, J. A. Ulic, The Adjudant General.

 
Source: Battle of the Bulge February 2009 - Submitted by Dee Paris
 

S/Sgt Meron J. THOMPSON

Company "C"

14th Tank Battalion

9th Armored Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium