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Baptism of Fire on the Siegfried Line
By Pfc Roy Bohner 1st Rifle Platoon B Co 55th AIB
The above map shows the Siegfried Line where a 19 year old replacement in the 55th Armored Infantry Battalion had his baptism of fire. The events are described below.
HILL 568 ACTION
This action took place on 6-12 Feb 1945, with an attack by the 21st AIB and 55th AIB penetrating a short distance into the German Siegfried line. On 7 Feb, our C.O. Capt. George Reimer was wounded by a mine and had to be replaced. The 63rd AIB relieved the 21st AIB on 9 Feb but the 55th AIB stayed in position during the entire period. My personal recollection is that we were advancing down a road on a cold, drizzly morning just before dawn. There was heavy snow on the ground. I was a recent replacement and this was my baptism of fire. I was very apprehensive. As we proceeded down the road in the predawn darkness, a series of explosions occurred to the right of the column. All us rookie replacements dove for the ditches, which were filled with melting snow, mud and water. We got soaking wet and covered with mud. Too late, our squad leader told us that the explosions were a salvo from our own artillery, which was located in a field along side the road, but was not seen in the darkness. In retrospect, this can be considered a laughable experience, although I did not think so at the time. The column then continued to advance through some dragons teeth, and our squad was deployed on the back side of a hill in some fox holes that had already been dug by others. I spent 6-12 Feb in a two man foxhole with another rifleman, John Blackburn. The only action was occasional enemy artillery fire that fell on our position. I do remember that it was very cold, and I had to constantly exercise my toes to avoid frozen feet or trenchfoot. During the week I went to the rear to get dry clothes and hot food, and slept one night on the floor of our half-track before returning to the foxhole. On 12 Feb, we were relieved by the 90th Infantry Division and rode in our half-tracks to Reuland, Belgium for a two day rest period.
ATTACK ON LEIDENBORN
As I recall, it was late afternoon on 18 Feb when B Co 22TK passed through the Siegfried Line dragons teeth and led the attack down a road to Leidenborn, with B Co 55AIB following behind the tanks. The attack received heavy artillery and mortar fire, but no small arms fire from the pillboxes in the area, which must have been silenced in an earlier action that morning (see 63AIB INSERTS below). The new C.O. of B Co 55AIB (Capt. Archibald Marcereau) was riding on top of a tank with his radio man (John Maley). A shell hit the tank, killing Maley and severely wounding Capt. Marcereau. The infantry took cover and did not stay with the tanks due to the heavy fire. I also took cover, and then saw Capt. Marcereau in a shell hole up ahead of me, and crawled to his aid. I gave him a morphine shot, put sulfa in the wound, and bandaged it. Then when the shelling let up, I called for a medic to care for the Captain, before returning to the tanks, which had stopped at the outskirts of Leidenborn. It was getting dark and I found myself to be the only infantryman with the tanks. The commander of one of the tanks told me to get on his tank because they were pulling back, which I did, and then rejoined my squad. We dug in on high ground for the night, and did not enter Leidenborn that day. I shared a foxhole with my squad leader Bill Duede. The following entries in the “History of the 63AIB” say it took Leidenborn on 19 Feb, which fits in with what I remember.
HISTORY OF THE 63AIB
February 18, 1945 – Attack Towards Berg and Leidenborn:
Battalion moved to assembly area for the attack. Jumped off at 0600, advancing against small arms, automatic weapons, mortar and artillery fire. (INSERTS A & B) “A” Company took objective #1 (the high ground East of BERG) at 1300, and “B” and “C” Companies, with a machine gun platoon attached, passed around “A” Company and captured the high ground west of LEIDENBORN. Enemy activity was very limited on the Corps front.
February 19, 1945 – Capture of Leidenborn:
Battalion continued its attack towards REIFF and the high ground East of LEIDENBORN. On the Corps front enemy resistance to the advance varied from light to determined. Some pillboxes were rigorously defended whereas others were abandoned after our troops fired on them. Our advance toward KESFELD caught the enemy by surprise and resulted in 47 POWs being taken. Resistance stiffened as the advance continued to LEIDENBORN but this was overcome and the town captured.
INSERT A by John William Mooney A Co 63AIB
At this point, from my remembrance, “A” Co was hampered by two pillboxes firing at us. I was made 1st scout of our squad and we had silenced one pillbox. To get to the other I had to go through a minefield and dragons teeth. As I ran toward the minefield, I heard an 88 coming in on me. I hit the dirt at the edge of the minefield (I was later told) and in doing so my rain coat button caught a trip wire to a mine. (Again I was told) It was a Teller Anti-Tank mine. I know from what I saw, had I been standing up, I would have been cut in two about waist high or chest high. I was flat on the ground and received four hits of shrapnel. I did not know all of this at first, but found out the extent of my wounds at the Field Aid Station. The only wound I was conscious of then was my right thigh wound. It felt like a red hot poker had gone thru it. My femoral artery and vein were severed, and a tourniquet stopped the bleeding. This was about noon. About midnight, I was operated on in the Field Hospital in the Summer Palace of the Duchy of Luxemburg. Beside the thigh injury, my right instep was shattered, my right heel had a flesh wound and left ankle a flesh wound. I was hospitalized 26 months, and today I am still undergoing treatment and skin grafting .
INSERT B by 2nd Lt Alfred D. Dunn 2nd Platoon Leader A Co 63AIB
I don’t think I was ever as concerned about a pending action as I was the night before we were to attack the Siegfried Line. Our company was to lead the battalion with my platoon leading the company. We spent most of the night before the attack fine-tuning our plans. We left the bivouac area on foot timed to reach the dragons teeth just before daylight. We went through in single file to reduce the danger from mines. Our objective was a small hill about 800 yards from the dragons teeth. After getting through the dragons teeth safely, I moved my platoon to the left and was moving parallel to the base of a steep ridge. As we approached the end of the ridge, it had become light enough that I could see German soldiers sitting outside their pillbox as if they were having their morning coffee. I gave the signal for everyone to move to the left up the ridge on the double. When we reached the top, we found trenches and fighting positions all prepared. When the Germans came streaming out of their pillbox to occupy their positions, we were waiting for them. There was one German machine gun behind us, which was supposed to cover the dragons teeth. I think we woke the gunners when we moved up the hill. One of my rear squads took care of it. After several hours of standoff, the Germans killed their lieutenant and surrendered. There were 18 German soldiers in the pillbox plus two on the machine gun. We only had one man slightly wounded.
PRIMMER RIVER ACTION
The following is an account of my experience at what I believe was the Primmer River, in the Siegfried Line. It was a small, shallow stream, and although details of the action are clear in my memory, the name of the river is not. Only after I saw a map of the area, did I conclude that it was the Primmer River, which flows in lowland separating Herzfeld and Roscheid, across our line of attack on 19, 20 and 21 Feb. The Germans were entrenched on high ground with low barbed wire between the river and the trenches. We had advanced to the opposite side of the river, behind a stone wall adjacent to a house. Our artillery, mortars and machine guns laid down heavy fire on the trenches, letting up and continuing at random so the Germans would not come out of their bunkers when fire was lifted for the actual attack (unless their look-out raised an alarm). Then when we did not attack all day, the Germans were taken by surprise when we did attack late in the afternoon when little daylight was left. Wading across the river and picking our way through the barbed wire, expecting a mine to go off or small arms fire, was daunting. Fortunately our mortars and artillery had torn up the barbed wire and disabled most mines. When we reached the trenches, I saw only a single German soldier slumped over, dead. Evidently he was the look-out and was killed and did not give an alarm or call for artillery or mortar fire. All the other German soldiers were still in their bunker, and they surrendered with no casualties to our squad. That night the Germans tried to reinforce the trenches, apparently unaware that we had occupied them. We greeted the reinforcements with machine gun and rifle fire, and they withdrew. This was a very dangerous situation, which turned out very good for us.
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