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US Army

The 89th Cavalry in the Bulge

 The 89th Cavalry in the Bulge
Everyone remembers his pleasant stay in Luxembourg, It's a quaint, picturesque little country with gently rolling hills dotted with small patches of dense woods and many neatly kept farms.  Numerous streams trickle down the beautiful green-lawned terraces and draws, and from the hilltops and summits one can see for miles on a clear, blue-skied day, taking in a view filled with scenic splendor.  Her people, industrious and friendly, seemed glad to see our troops come, and generously shared their homes and land with us, and often their food and affection.  And as time went by, the welcome did not seem to show signs of wear. 
In these quiet, comforting and pleasant surroundings, the 89th dwelled and trained during November and half of December, and there appeared to be nothing in the offing which would shake us loose from these comfortable moorings for some time to come. In the midst of all this imperturbable calm, and without warning, came the storm, violent and terrifying. 
On December 16, 1944, Squadron Headquarters and Service Troop were securely and most luxuriously ensconced in the almost medieval splendor of the Castle at Berg.  The view was magnificent, the surroundings unsurpassed, the chow as usual, and worries not too overburdening, which was also as usual.   The other troops were in less glorious billets, but no one was complaining, and friendships with the natives were being daily cultivated and solidified - meaning that fraternization was in style those happy days.  “A” Troop was in a little village named Bissen, performing usual organizational duties which in that day and age meant largely getting up in the morning, eating three squares and going to sleep sooner or later and what went on in between no-one could vouch for with any high degree of accuracy.  A thing called the "training schedule" was followed, however, and a man kept himself physically fit.  “B” Troop was in Grosbous, “C” Troop was with Squadron Headquarters at Berg, having just returned from a patrolling mission.  “E” Troop less the 2nd and 4th platoons, which were attached to the reconnaissance troops and “F” Company less the 1st Platoon, which was guarding the Division Air Strip; 2nd Platoon attached to “D” Troop and the 3rd Platoon which was at Beringen, Luxembourg.  They were all performing usual organizational duties.  At the moment, “D” Troop was with Combat Command B far off to the North at Faymonville, Belgium, attached to the 2nd Infantry Division, which was attacking towards the key dams on the Roer River.  They were sweating it out, waiting to be called upon to support the attack, and perhaps a little better prepared for it, when the blow struck. 
The first shattering note to penetrate the veil of calm and peace occurred at 13h00 on the 16th when “A” Troop was placed on an hours' alert, and at 16h00 the troop was on its way to Haller, Luxembourg, where they were attached to the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion.  They learned, upon their arrival, that the enemy had infiltrated through the lines of the 60th Infantry, but it didn't appear too serious -- at first.  A couple of days work, at the most. 
Everyone had settled back a bit after the alert had been passed on to “A” Troop when the second disturbing note arrived.  “B” Troop was also placed on an hour's alert at 15h00, and had attached to it the 2nd platoon of “E” Troop. The men of “B” found themelves on the road, destination, Christnach, Luxembourg, which they reached at 20h30 and were given the mission of protecting the right flank of CCA, which also had been infiltrated by the Germans.  The extent, the intent, the strength of the enemy forces, no one knew.  When “C” Troop was attached to CCA at 23h00 and alerted for movement, also to Haller, Luxembourg, it was clear that something definitely was up but what? No one knew.  And no one knew or realized what was really up for many more days. 
Meanwhile, 100 miles away, “D” Troop was told that the Germans had attacked and seized 5 small towns on the German border.  This looked like the usual counterattack to relieve the pressure that the 2nd Infantry was exerting on German positions, and at 16h00 “D” Troop sent a platoon to outpost towns west of the German border to warn of any further enemy progress.  Nothing serious, though despite great numbers of buzz-bombs and intense artillery coming from the German side. 
“A” Troop was ordered to leave it's vehicles in Haller and march dismounted to the town of Beaufort which seemed to be the objective of the enemy attack.  The troop out-posted the town and patrolled the vicinity.  By early morning of the 17th the enemy was successful in infiltrating through the infantry lines to the extent of occupying some commanding high ground North of Beaufort.  A mounted attack with six armored cars drove the enemy off the hill, but the Germans began pouring in artillery and gathering more strength hourly with puzzling and bewildering persistence.  A strong enemy patrol attempted to enter Beaufort at 15h00 but “A” Troopers stoutly fought them back.  Then at 17h10, as evening dark began to gather, Beaufort was attacked by an enemy battalion.  The Commander of the 60th phoned the A troop Commander, notifying him that the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion was pulling out and ordered “A” Troop to hold their present positions as long as possible.
While the conversation was taking place, the enemy commanded all street intersections in town and the pitch and temper of battle had become intense, as night began to fall.  Over near “B” Troop, the enemy had also been infiltrating down an unprotected draw near the town of Mullerthal, which was on “A” Troop's right flank. 
At 10h00 on the 17th, reinforced by one platoon from “A” Troop, “B” Troop was ordered to move to Mullerthal to seize and hold the high ground surrounding it.  They ran into a stone wall defending the town, finding at least an enemy infantry company in it, and an undetermined additional number holding high ground south of town. They were met with a hail of bullets, bazooka fire small arms, machine gun fire. Despite this they were ordered to attack Mullerthal and regain it from the enemy.  Reinforced by some tank destroyers, and led by a lieutenant, the attack was begun' at 13h30 against overwhelming enemy superiority, but despite the vigor, determination and courage with which the attack was carried out, it was unsuccessful and “B” Troop found itself virtually encircled with seemingly little hope of extrication. 
When “C” Troop arrived at Haller in the early morning of the 17th, it was ordered at once to make a dismounted attack towards Beaufort to relieve pressure on the 60th Infantry and “A” Troop.  They did so immediately, advanced 1000 yards and then were stopped cold, forced to withdraw in face of terrifically intense enemy fire, coming from every direction and of every type of ammunition that the Germans possessed. 
At 01h15 on the 17th December, at Faymonville, Belgium, the commander of CCB ordered “D” Troop to march immediately to south of St. Vith, seize high ground there until relieved by the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion, and then reconnoiter the flanks towards Winterspelt, Germany, where the Germans were reported to be in some strength.  To the tune of deafening artillery bursts coming from both sides, “D” Troop occupied its positions at 04h30 until the 27th Armored took over.  One platoon, trying to get around the German flank to carry out the reconnaissance mission, ran into a strong enemy tank-infantry attack coming from the East and fought a delaying action against them for six hours.  Meanwhile, the 27th Armored Infantry courageously pushed the Germans back 5 miles.  At dark the troop was ordered to occupy a 3000 yard front on the Our River, while the 27th Battalion withdrew through them.  There were no friendly forces left and right as “D” Troop struggled in the unfriendly dark to find positions from which to defend.  No one knew what caused the 27th Armored to withdraw the 5 miles they had won no one knew what to expect - no one could tell the men of “D” Troop "why" or "what for''.  Strong German patrols tried to cross the river during the night, the enemy shelled incessantly, and enemy tanks could be heard rumbling on the other side of the river. 
“E” Troop, with one platoon attached to “D” Troop, one attached to “B” Troop moved with its two remaining platoons to Fels, Luxembourg, to become attached to CCA there on the 17th, and to support them with their assault gun fire.  “F” Company less the 2nd platoon was ordered to move to Berg astride the Ettelbruck - Mersch Highway. 
What were we thinking that dark unfriendly night of December 17 -18?  It is difficult to put the thoughts in words, to explain the confusion, the bewilderment, the hungry desire that each individual possessed for a mere morsel of information that would explain the turmoil.  The sense of comfort and security that was ours only a scant day ago had forsaken us.  In a rapid succession of stunning events we rushed headlong into the enemy's furious thrusts, only to be beaten back.  This sudden shock of battle was almost overwhelming. The heavy artillery concentrations, the flashes of many guns, the deafening noise of battle, contradictory orders, confusion - confusion -confusion.  A man's mind was a fearful jigsaw puzzle.  What does it mean?  What was happening on my left and my right and behind me and in front of me?  Was this attack local or was it everywhere?  What was the extent and the intent of this sudden German breakthrough?  Many of us were surrounded that night - and knew it.  Many heard and saw unmistakable signs of great enemy strength.  Few could hope for escape or relief.  Yet not a man could permit himself to ponder his thoughts to lag.  The present, material reality of the moment demanded priority, for a man was fighting for his life those terrible days.  We were buying the future dearly and the currency was human blood. 
Over at Beaufort, Luxembourg, things were going from bad to worse for “A” Troop. One platoon of “A” Troop had been attached to “B” Troop earlier; one Lieutenant had taken five men to relieve an outpost and didn't return, not to be heard from again until many months later.  Enemy strength gathered in intensity with each tortuous moment.  By 20h30 “A” Troop's position had become untenable and a withdrawal was begun.  The story of “A” troop's escape from German encirclement reads like a Frank Merriwell episode.   The escape route consisted of a hole cut in a fence which surrounded the CP, which in tum was surrounded by the enemy.  Under cover of darkness each man slipped through, one by one, as noiselessly as possible.  The only way out of town was a deep draw with sheer, steep cliffs of about 30 to 50 feet high.  A heavy wire was let down over the side and the men went down hand over hand until they safely reached the draw.  It was in the draw where the C. 0., who was reconnoitering a cross-country route in front of his men, set off a booby trap and was injured.  He continued leading his men in enemy-infested territory until he considered them safe, and then allowed himself to be evacuated.  After a hectic night of sneaking through German lines and around enemy guards and outposts, the remainder of the troop, tired and exhausted, assembled and reorganized at Waldbillig, Luxembourg.  Fortunately, the only enemy action the night of the 18th was spasmodic artillery fire and the men managed to get a little rest.  “B” Troop found itself pinned down in the woods south of Mullerthal by heavy small arms fire, its attack stopped dead in its tracks.  A burning tank destroyer blocked the narrow road and prevented any forward movement of the supporting elements, and the Germans began shelling “B” Troop's position with heavy artillery.  Finally, the tank destroyers came through, and in an attack across some open ground, supported by the artillery fire of the platoon of “E” Troop, enemy pressure was relieved long enough to allow the pinned down elements of “B” Troop to extricate themselves.  An orderly withdrawal was made to Waldbillig and defensive positions. set up on high ground covering approaches to the town.  During that night, the 17th, approximately 150 rounds of artillery fell on their positions and during the next day “B” Troop received 300 rounds more of artillery and mortar fire. 
When “C” Troop's attack made no progress, but instead received a hail of bullets and artillery and mortar fire from the vicinity of Beaufort, they were forced to withdraw to Haller, Luxembourg.  There they became part of Task Force Shuttler, commanded by the Squadron S-3.  At 02h30, December 18th, Task Force Shuttler was ordered to move to the vicinity of Savelborn, Luxembourg to straighten out the line and protect CCA's flank.  They received artillery fire between 06h00 and 07h00. Small enemy patrols attempted to infiltrate without success at 10h00.  At 11h00, 200 enemy attempted an attack on their positions but were driven off by supporting artillery fire. The enemy occupied two houses 1000 yards in front of “C” Troop's position, but artillery fire brought a quick surrender.  At the end of the day's operations it was found that 40 enemy had been killed, 61 prisoners taken and for “C” Troop, miraculously, not a casualty! 
Many miles to the north, in the vicinity of St. Vith, Belgium, things were getting hotter by the minute at D troop's position.  Early in the morning of the 18th, strong enemy patrols attempted to cross the bridge into Belgium over the Our River but D's machine gunners had a field day when the enemy ran into a devastating cross-fire of 50 caliber bullets.  Nevertheless, enemy pressure increased relentlessly.  Artillery and mortar fire increased in intensity hourly and the enemy could be seen gathering across the river for a powerful attack supported by tanks.  The enemy infiltrated across the river and surrounded one platoon at 14h30, so that only five men succeeded in escaping.  By 16h30, “D” Troop was virtually encircled, the only escape road interdicted by enemy small arms and artillery fire.  The order for withdrawal was given as enemy tanks began swooping down and an unbelievable volume of enemy bullets and shrapnel fell on the positions.  The tank platoon from “F” Company fought like men possessed to hold off the enemy long enough to enable elements of “D” to escape.  Then the tank platoon, reinforced by three armored cars from the first platoon, drove through the enemy, their machine guns spitting fire in every direction (for the enemy had by this time cut the escape route in several places), and joined the balance of the troop three miles to the rear.  From there “D” Troop was sent off to protect CCB's right flank in a lonely woods southwest of St. Vith where it spent an uncomfortable night on the 18th December. 
Meanwhile the Commanding Officer of “E” Troop was sending platoons “hither” and “yon” with alarming speed to reinforce various elements of Combat Command “A”.  On the 18th, one platoon was sent to reinforce Task Force Philbeck, which attacked in the vicinity of Beaufort, Luxembourg.  The platoon joined in attacks by the 60th Infantry to knock out enemy bazooka teams which were holding up Task Force Philbeck's advance.  Then later the same day, the troop, less the detached platoons, was attached to Task Force Blair in CCA reserve.  Finally, after several more detachments and attachments were made, the troop wound up with all its platoons less the 4th Platoon (which was with “D” Troop) at Schrondweiler, Luxembourg, on the 19th December. 
While all this was taking place, personnel from Squadron Headquarters, including mechanics, mess personnel and technicians, were organized into Task force Graham, which screened the Jett flank of CCA in the vicinity of Diekirch and later moved to the vicinity of Redange, Luxembourg, with the same mission and to maintain liaison with the 28th Infantry Division in Vichten.  “F” Company less the 2nd Platoon and reinforced by 100 men and officers from Division artillery and Division Headquarters, was formed into Task Force Harrison and outposted defensive positions across the strategic Ettelbruck - Mersch road in the vicinity of Berg - Colmar until they were relieved there December 22.
From the 19-26 December, CCA to which “A”, “B”, “C”, and “E” Troops were attached had the defensive mission of holding down the south anchor of the Von Rundstedt counter Divisions and the 5th Infantry Division.  They accomplished this by defending the high ground which surrounds Fels, Luxembourg.  Each of our troops had a sector in the line.   “A” Troop in the vicinity of Medernach, Luxembourg, “B” Troop in the vicinity of Christnach, Luxembourg, “C” Troop in the vicinity of Savelbom, Luxembourg, and “E” Troop in mobile reserve and artillery support at Schrondweiler, Luxembourg. It was a grueling, heartbreaking week, during which the enemy pressure never remitted.  A moment's relaxation, the slightest mental or physical lapse could very well mean the loss of a life, for the enemy continually sent patrols into the lines and shelled us unceasingly and unsparingly.  It was a week of constant patrolling and the manning of defensive positions without relief, day and night.  The weaker were cracking under the strain, and each day many were wounded by the enemy artillery and mortar fire which never ceased.  But the line was held, no matter the cost.
During these days the enlisted men and officers acted with a heroism and coolness under fire that is unsurpassed, and although their bodies ached and their minds yearned for respite, each man fought with a dogged resolution to tum back the mighty German tide which had been so suddenly unleashed.  On the 20th of December, the G-2 Periodic Report carried an item which was revealing.  Interrogation of a PW revealed that the objective of the German thrust was to break through to Antwerp and the channel coast, thereby encircling and capturing 4 allied armies. 30 infantry divisions and 13-15 Panzer divisions were supposed to participate in the attack.  With this added information we began slowly to realize what was happening and the seriousness of the situation, and began to understand more clearly what was expected of us.  In knowledge, there is strength - thus understanding; we fought back only harder and with increased determination.
An outstanding example of coolness under fire and bravery was displayed on the afternoon of the 22nd at “C” Troop.  At 15h00 two enemy assault guns moved into Savelborn from an easterly direction supporting an enemy infantry attack on our supporting AAA positions.  As the first assault gun reached a road junction in Savelbom and turned left towards the AAA positions, a sergeant, realizing the enemy's intentions, ran to an unmanned armored car, and doing his own loading, observing and firing, fired five rounds of 37mm into the rear of the enemy assault gun, knocking it out of action.  The sergeant then killed the driver of the tank with his carbine. The second assault gun withdrew in the direction of Haller. Two men, a sergeant and a Lieutenant pursued it afoot and with their BAR and rifle killed the Tank Commander and gunner.
On the 22nd of December, Squadron Headquarters, Service Troop and “F” Company minus one platoon, which was attached to “D” Troop, moved to Habay La Neuve, Belgium, with the mission of outposting the locality against infiltration and maintaining contact with elements of the 4th Armored Division on the East and with Task Force Coker on the west.  Eight outposts were made up of light tanks and Division Headquarters personnel as supporting infantry. Squadron Headquarters also organized Task Force Wortham for a Corps counter-reconnaissance screen and counter-infiltration screen.  The task force was made up of the Service Troop mess, supply and maintenance section, 2 officers from “F” Company, enlisted men from Squadron Headquarters, Service Troop, Division headquarters and “F” Company.
Meanwhile CCB, to which “D” Troop was attached, was concerned with holding down the northern anchor of the counteroffensive which on the 20 December was at St. Vith, Belgium. “D” Troop screened CCB's right flank and maintained contact with friendly elements throughout the night of the 19th.  Then, on the 20th, joined a light tank company as supporting infantry in an attempt to clear a wood of enemy which threatened to envelope CCB around its right flank.  The troop fought for three days without rest in a gruelling struggle of give and take, was virtually surrounded on three different occasions, but in each case, with a final effort, prevented the enemy from breaking through.  It was in these woods that a corporal singlehandedly wiped out three enemy machine gun nests and two bazooka crews, for which he (Horace M Thorne) was posthumously recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor. (See the Citation)
The enemy finally succeeded in capturing St. Vith the night of the 22nd of December, and early in the morning of the 23rd, CCB began a withdrawal through an only remaining escape route which was already being interdicted by intense enemy anti-tank gun fire.  “D” Troop screened the withdrawal of the Combat Command and was consequently the last to make the narrow escape.  From that date on, the troop was in the line in the vicinity of Manhay, Belgium, which became the northern anchor of the bulge after the fall of St. Vith. Though constantly performing patrolling missions and counter-reconnaissance, the troop's worst days were over after the escape of the 23rd, in the first hectic and devastating week of the counteroffensive, the troop was reinforced by one platoon of tanks from “F” Company, and one platoon of assault guns from “E” Troop, lost three officers and 56 enlisted men, had done more than its share in holding the line and delaying the furious assault. 
Ever since the gray, dull morning of the 17th, each man turned an anxious eye towards the heavily overcast sky hoping to see the bright blue, which would mean that our incomparable air force could swing into action with its devastating effect.  Day after day rolled by, and the Germans seemed to have even the weather on their side.  A thick "soup" hung low and a man could see no more than 200 yards in any direction.  On the afternoon of the 22nd it turned colder and snowed.  Prospects in the morning of the 23rd seemed no better, and each man began to reconcile himself to a forbidding, unfriendly depressing Christmas.  Men wanted to know who that guy was who said we'd be home by Christmas of 44!  The end of the war never looked further away.  Then, as tho' repentant and forgiving, the skies opened up on the afternoon of the 23rd and each man turned his face and smiled up at the warm, bright sun.  Soon we heard the roar of planes our planes.  Look out Jerry, here they come!  Everyone, to a man, felt now that the worst was over, that the tide was turning.  Brother, there's nothing like our air corps, and for four beautiful sunny, clear days they came wave after wave, spreading destruction and terror, beating the Germans back, preventing them from bringing up supplies and reinforcements, destroying hundreds of vehicles.  We ate our Christmas turkey (yes, even in hell you have your turkey on Christmas!) with hope in our hearts, and the outlook for the future a lot brighter.
On December 27, CCA received orders to attack Norlheast along the Neufchateau -Bastogne Highway to assist in the relieving of the heroic bastion at Bastogne.  “A” Troop had the mission of outposting Headquarters of CCA at Longlier, Belgium, and later at Vaux Les Rosieres, while patrolling the locality.  “B” Troop received the mission of screening the right flank of CCA's attack towards Bastogne, to gain and maintain contact with the 4th Armored Division, which was also attacking towards Bastogne; and to patrol the area in the vicinity of Sibret, Belgium.  On the 28th, “B” Troop sent a patrol into Bastogne, gained contact with the 101st Airborne, and continued active patrolling.  “C” Troop was given the task of reconnoitering in front of CCA in the direction of Bastogne, and then actively patrolled the area around Morhet.  The three reconnaissance troops, during the attack towards Bastogne, and after the relief of the forces there had been effected, actively screened the combat command, maintained contact with friendly forces left and right, and outposted key towns, roads and terrain features.  Even then the ferocity of the battle had not subsided, for the enemy artillery continued to be intense, and our units were in constant contact with the enemy, subject to his small arms fire and small patrols.
By New Year's day every officer and enlisted man had reached almost the limit of his physical and mental endurance in one of the most ferocious and hotly fought battles of all military history.  Body and soul yearned for respite, and a chance to lick our wounds, to rebuild and reorganize, to strike back the enemy, to drive him once and for all into the abyss of total defeat.  On New Year Day, Squadron Headquarters, with Service Troop and “F” Company, less one platoon, was already relieved and billeted in the vicinity of Vendresse, France.  “A” Troop, weary and worn, returned to Squadron control on January 4, 1945 as did “C” Troop and “E” Troop. “B” Troop came "Home" the next day, and finally, on the 8th of January 1945, “D” Troop, after a long icy road march from Northern Belgium, rolled in to roost. Once again the Squadron was one happy though weary and battle-wiser, family.
Source: document received by mail on March 2, 2018 from Robert Betz, Historian. Extract from “Leesville to Leipzig” published at Bayreuth, Germany, July 1, 1945.
By Captain Eugene AUERBACH


Commanding Officer


"D" Troop


89th Cavalry Recc Squadron


9th Armored Division



Battle of the Bulge,