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41st Cavalry

The 41st Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. Mechanized, was organized initially as the 91st Armored Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Polk, Louisiana, on August 15. 1942. Officer and enlisted cadres were drawn from other armored units. Draftees and enlistments fleshed out the battalion, which trained at Camp Polk and participated in the Third Army's Louisiana-Texas maneuver in June-August, 1943. In September the squadron moved with the 11th Armored Division to Camp Barkeley, Texas, and stayed a month before shipping out to California, where the scenery changed considerably. There was sand, cactus and barren mountains at the battalion's new post, Camp Ibis, near Needles, California, in the Mojave Desert.

The unit was designated as the 41st Cavalry Squadron, Mechanized. Desert warfare training tested men and machinery. Days were blazing hot; nights were cold. Sand got into gears and ears.

In February 1944, the battalion moved to more pleasant surroundings, Camp Cooke, California, on the Pacific Coast. The men forsook sunbaked desert tents for barracks with real bunks. Training was still tough, but 41st Cavalry troopers agreed that the seacoast beat desert sand.

Camp Cooke was home to the 11th Armored until September, 1944 when it was time to move toward the war zone. On September 17, the battalion climbed aboard railroad cars for the long journey east. On September 21, the train chugged to a halt at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, near New York City. Six days later, the men of the 41st squadron were headed up the gangplanks of the troopship U.S.S. Hermitage. The Atlantic crossing was uneventful for the men except for occasional bouts with seasickness. On October 10, the Hermitage docked at Southampton, the huge English Channel seaport. It was a short trip inland to Chippenham England, on the Salisbury Plain.

The 11th Armored Soldiers nicknamed the "Thunderbolts" were destined for a short stay in Britain. There was more training, but the 11th Armored was needed in France where Anglo-American forces had stormed ashore in June and were driving inland.

On December 16, the Germans launched a massive surprise attack in the Ardennes Forest. Advancing on a 50-mile front, enemy tanks and infantry drove deep into Allied lines. Historians would call the bloody struggle the Battle of the Bulge. Reinforcements were desperately needed in response to this attack.

On December 19, the 11th Armored crossed a galeswept channel and arrived at Cherbourg, France. The Thunderbolts had been ordered to Lorient to help wipe out a pocket of Nazi resistance. However, events in Belgium forced a change in plans.

The 11th Armored was ordered to proceed immediately from Cherbourg to the strategic Meuse River and onto the line between Sedan and Givet. The Thunderbolts crossed the Meuse on December 24 with the dual mission of linking up with British forces on the north and making contact with the Germans northeast of the river. On Christmas Eve, 1944, elements of the 41st Cavalry were in contact with the enemy while the rest of the division was still moving from Cherbourg. For the next 21 days, the 41st Cavalry was in the vanguard of the effort to erase the bulge and stop the German drive on the western front.

The final phase of the fighting in the Ardennes was characterized by the coordinated drive by the 1st and 3rd Armies to seize the key town of Houffalize, Belgium, on the Ourthe River, 10 mile north of Bastogne. The 41st squadron was the Third Army unit given the mission of contacting the First Army near Houffalize.

On January 15, the 41st Cavalry, less Troop B was attached to Combat Command A of the 11th Armored and was deployed near Monaville, Belgium. The next day, the squadron was ordered north and east of Bertogne to protect the northern flank of CCA in its attack northeast.

Since the morning of January 13, when the Thunderbolt attack began, the full strength of the Corps had been concentrated on Houffalize. On January 15, General Patton, 3rd Army Commander directed that Houffalize be seized without further delay. Houffalize was at least 10 miles behind the German lines. But some unit had to get through and contact the 2nd Armored Division as it drove down from Achouffe. That unit was to be a task force of 41st Cavalry Squadron units. Designated as Task Force Greene, this combat element was made up o the Squadron executive officer with a small staff: 2nd Platoon, Troop A; Troop D; Troop E (assault gun troop); and Company F (tank company).

There were mine fields and strong enemy resistance at Velleroux. The route to Houffalize was typical Ardennes terrain. There were no main roads the only route of any consequence was a one-lane dirt road from Rastadt to Bonneure, then north to the Ouerthe River at Grinvet. All other routes were even rougher logging trails through the dense forests. Maps showed the only available route from Bonneure to Houffalize was a trail through the forest that crossed a stream which flowed into the Ouerthe through a deep valley just west of Houffalize. Deep snow compounded travel woes. It was a minimum of 18 inches deep, but had drifted higher in some spots.

The move to Houffalize began in the late afternoon of January 15. Troop D initially took the lead. However, at Tastadt the Troop A platoon and Company F joined the task force. The column leader had hoped to bypass Bonneure, but he had to lead the unit through the tiny town. Beyond Bonneure, the terrain, the night and the weather became the task force's main enemies.

The task force continued on through the night reaching a bridge across the Rau de Suhet just at daylight The Thunderbolts were now about two miles west of Houffalize. At daybreak, they were in the Ouerthe Valley; Houffalize was in view.

The 41st troopers hoped to sneak into Houffalize undetected. But Germans in the town opened fire with small-arms, anti-tank guns and mortars. At 9:05 am on January 16, the 41st Cavalry task force made contact with the 41st Infantry of the 2nd Armored Division, thus ending Third Army operations around Bastogne.

The Germans, defeated in the Battle of the Bulge, retreated eastward behind the Westwall, a formidable line of fortifications Allied troops dubbed the "Siegfried Line". German defenses consisted of barbed wire, mine fields, pillboxes, dragon's teeth and reinforced concrete bunkers protected by infantry, artillery and armored units. On February 26, the 41st Calvary sent patrols into the Siegfried Line, which failed to halt the Americans. On March 7, the 41st Cavalry was in Fleringen, Germany. Hundreds of German prisoners were streaming toward the rear.

The next objective was the mighty Rhine River. A and D Troops were assigned to CC A and CC B respectively. The squadron itself operated under command of the division or CC R. During the breakthrough operations from the Kyll river to Andernach, the squadron moved up with CC R and had no combat engagements.

When the 11th Armored crossed the Moselle to sweep through the Saar-Palatinate, A and B troops were assigned to the attacking combat commands. The squadron itself was given the mission of protecting the division's exposed right flank.

The squadron crossed the Moselle on a planned route which would keep it from 3 to 10 miles west of CCB. There were no enemy troops to oppose the division's drive on the Nahe River, but roadblocks and other obstacles sometimes slowed progress.

At Herrstein, the leading reconnaissance platoon found a group of Germans preparing a roadblock on the edge of town. The Americans opened fire and 20 Germans surrendered. A platoon pushed through Herrstein with plans to seize a bridge over the Nahe at Fischbach, but the Germans blew the bridge before the troopers arrived.

Meanwhile, word was received that CC B was held up at the river. The 41st Cavalry rounded up more prisoners and troopers scouted for a place to cross.

Once across the Nahe, the squadron continued to protect the division's right flank. It also was ordered to be ready to make contact with XX Corps units moving up from the west. The 41st Squadron was bound for Meisenheim when it overran an enemy column at Hundsbach and took 250 German prisoners.

On the road from Hundsbach to Breitenheim, contact was made with 12th Armored Division patrols. With light tanks leading the way, the 41st Calvary rolled on toward Breitenheim. Another enemy column was shot up, but most of the German soldiers escaped into the woods. More Germans fired on the column at Breitenheim, but the battle was brief. An enemy artillery battalion and much of its equipment was captured.

The squadron established headquarters at Hundsbach. The biggest worry at the time was what to do with all the prisoners. More than 1,000 were collected and marched into an enclosure at Hundsbach.

On March 21, recon patrols were sent to Lauterecken where they encountered main elements of the 12th Armored Division. Then the squadron was on the move again, capturing and shooting up more German wagon trains.

On March 22, the squadron roared through Bohenheim to Grundstadt at the edge of the Rhine River Plain. They were just in time to see CC B take off and attack historic Worms.

The Thunderbolts watched the Germans retreating from Grundstadt and the squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Herbert M. Foy Jr., proposed to cut the town off. The squadron reached the town at dark and spent the night.

The next morning, the squadron headed for Worms. The squadron reconnaissance units they were assembled to patrol the Rhine south of Worms until ordered to cross the river.

After crossing the Rhine, a platoon of cavalry normally led each column of the Division during the "rat race" across Germany. Usually accompanied by a light tank company the cavalry would depart each morning an hour ahead of the main armored column. The concept being that reconnaissance could be performed at about the same rate of speed a tank column could travel. When the cavalry encountered resistance it could not eliminate or bypass in an hour the tanks would arrive to blast the way through.

Another concept used extensively was reconnaissance by fire. A few well-placed rounds into a town usually resulted in a lot of white towels, sheets or pillowcases streaming from windows. A determination of whether a city was "open" or defended was quickly made.

While reconnoitering routes for CC A, one troop of the 41st Cavalry was counterattacked at Hildeberghausen. The few flank protection missions were mainly a matter of overcoming roadblocks and blown up bridges. The squadron captured large numbers of prisoners and tons of enemy equipment.

From Germany, the Thunderbolt Division crossed into Austria. After reaching Linz, the 41st Cavalry was sent on patrols to the east to make contact with Soviet troops. Foy sent A Troop southeast to Grien on the Danube. One platoon found first-hand evidence of Nazi atrocities, the large concentration camp at Mauthausen. The guards had fled.

Another platoon bypassed Mauthausen on the north and reached Grien. No Soviet troops were found.

Meanwhile, B Troop reconnoitered to Konigsweisen, but no Russians were evident there either. That evening, both troops returned to Kansdorf, bringing 2,500 German prisoners with them.

The next morning patrols went out again on the same routes. There was light German opposition at Grien and Konigsweisen, but the Americans withdrew before there were any casualties.

One hour after the cease-fire order was given on May 8, the commander of an SS division, claiming 5,000 men under his command tried to surrender to the Americans but was refused. The division was ordered to remain in place beyond the tentative restraining line between U.S. and Soviet forces.

The 11th Armored still wanted the cavalry to contact the Soviet. Foy sent a patrol across the Danube with orders to work south and east. After being accidentally strafed by Russian planes, the patrol found the Russians. It was the war's last major event for the 41st Cavalry, which suffered 42 men killed, 173 wounded and 124 injured in combat in 1944-45.

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