A series following the story of my father in World War II 75 years ago. He was in Europe with the 10th Armored Division's 80th Armored Medical Battalion.This updates the series Following the 10th Armored that I did five years ago.

#38- Thanksgiving 1944 and After

Diary Entries, Beula Keller Lehman

    •    November 21, 1944
Dora called and said she was coming up for Thanksgiving

    •    November 23, 1944- Thanksgiving Day
Dora came at 9.20. Had dinner. It was a lovely day

    •    November 26, 1944
Dora and I went to Bethlehem.

For Thanksgiving, Dora made her second trip to Pennsylvania since her new husband had deployed. Beula, as usual, shows no emotions in her diary about what is happening. Dora has become another person in her life who can help fill her loneliness. She and Dora go to the movies, visit Ruth in Bethlehem, sharing what must have been a very subdued Thanksgiving. Beula regularly comments that she receives letters from Buddy and that she writes back. There is never anything indicating she knows where he is or what is happening. Most likely, he downplayed the events knowing that in any case, the letters were censored.

In Europe, on November 21 Co. C was moved to support CC B. It was their first time on the “front line” and not with the reserve unit closer to Division headquarters. It would only last a week, but they were finally, truly, in the midst of combat casualties.

    ✓    21 November 1944
    ✓    Company C Morning Report
Departed Kaltweiler 1300 via motor convoy. Traveled 9.4 miles to Ritzing. Arrived 1600. Billeted troops and set up Clearing Station. (MR)

During this week that Buddy’s Company C was assigned to CC B:

    ⁃    21 Nov- the north column of CCB received a heavy counterattack just west of BUDINGEN but it was repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy.

    ⁃    22 and 23 Nov- CCB was patrolling to the front to determine exact location of enemy positions.

    ⁃    26 Nov- CCB cleared the woods east of WALDWISSE and then entered the town of BETHINGEN. Although the town was taken by surprise, heavy enemy artillery concentrations soon necessitated a withdrawal. General PIBURN now had three columns within four miles of his objective, the bridge of MERZIG. The head of the northern column was just east of BUDINGEN with a good road leading into the city of LERZIG.

    ⁃    27 – 28 Nov- The Germans had realized the importance of the city of MERZIG, the key to the SAAR Valley, and had taken extreme care to block all avenues of approach. The terrain along with the soft subsoil afforded the defender an excellent position. The roads, the only avenues of approach for armor, were covered with numerous roadblocks, which made going extremely slow.

    ✓    29 November 1944
    ✓    Company C Morning Report
Left Ritzing 1100. Traveled 5.2 miles via motor convoy to Sierck-les-Bains. Arrived 1200. Billeted troops and set up clearing station. (MR)

[Co C reassigned back to reserve combat command (CC R) and they moved back to the vicinity of Division HQ.]

    ⁃    29 Nov- Both the northern and the center columns of CCB pushed to the built-up area of HILBRINGEN, only one mile west of the bridge in the afternoon

    ⁃    30 Nov- As the elements of CCB were preparing to complete their mission of seizing the bridge intact over the SAAR River at MERZIG, a terrific explosion shook the area. The Germans had blown the bridge just as the engineers reached it.

All this action with CC B is taking place in an area smaller than the New York City borough of Brooklyn! It was 11 miles wide and 7 miles long.

It is interesting to note that there are no morning reports for Company C from 23 Nov - 29 Nov, the period they are assigned to CC B. While I have the end of the month After Action Report for the whole 80th Battalion which shows the activity at the clearing stations, it is not broken down by company. (I will post that at the beginning of December.)

Following the 80th Armored Medical Battalion and10th Armored Division in World War II has given me a new perspective on the planning and execution of war. I have never been in the military; I have read many books (novels as well as non-fiction); I have watched many movies; I have never studied the tactics of warfare. It is intriguing and educational to look at war from a tactical perspective, even if it is with the “perfect” vision of seventy-five years.

The staggering number of troops involved is far more than my mind can handle. As I stare at the maps I realize that each map is but a small slice of a huge story, even within the area covered by the maps. I remember that the whole 10th Armored Division would have been between 10 and 15,000 troops.

An armored division’s organization included

    ▪    a Division Headquarters and Headquarters Company,
    ▪    two Combat Command Headquarters (CC A and CC B),
    ▪    a Reserve Combat Command Headquarters (CC R),
    ▪    three tank battalions (of three medium and one light tank companies),
    ▪    three armored infantry battalions,
    ▪    three eighteen-gun artillery battalions,
    ▪    a cavalry reconnaissance squadron (battalion),
    ▪    an armored medical battalion.
    ▪    an engineer battalion, and
    ▪    division services,

The division was commanded by a major general, the combat commands by a brigadier general (who was also assistant division commander) and two colonels. The division included

    ▪        77 light tanks,
    ▪        168 medium tanks,
    ▪        18 M4 105mm assault guns,
    ▪        54 M7 105mm SP artillery pieces,
    ▪        54 M8 armored cars,
    ▪        450 halftracks,
    ▪        1,031 motor vehicles, and
    ▪        8 light observation aircraft.

(Military History Online)

Eastern France was a city in the mud and rain that November seventy-five years ago. To organize, direct and carry out the maneuvers must have been incredibly complex and, of course, based on the fact that the German troops weren’t just going to fall over and quit.

So I look at the maps and read the descriptions and am finally, after seven years of this, beginning to figure it out.

    ▪    First there’s the work of Combat Command A or B (CC A, CC B). CC A went one way with one job, CC B went another.
    ▪    Then there are the different Task Forces sent out from the Combat Commands. One might come in from the rear and another from a flanking maneuver.
    ▪    On top of all that this had to be coordinated with other divisions, Combat Commands, Task Forces, air support, medical support.

The movies make it look like all the tanks did was just barrel on forward crushing everything in their path. That is obviously not what happened. There were the days or weeks when a particular group might be less involved than at other times. There were the times after a battle when they could (sort of) relax.

How much could the medics relax? What could the soldiers do in the “downtime?” It must have been nothing short of maddening on some level of awareness that they must have had to sublimate, push away, forget.

#37- A Birthday in Europe

    ◆    75 Years Ago
    ◆    November 19, 1944
Buddy’s 39th Birthday

    ✓    15 November 1944
    ✓    Company C Morning Report

Left Audun-le-Tiche 0001 Traveled 15 miles by motor convoy to Soetrich. Arrived 0700 and billeted troops. (MR)
    ✓    17 November 1944
Left Soetrich at 0700. Crossed Moselle River at 1007. Arrived at Petite Hattange 1130. Traveled 13 miles. Established bivouac and set up Clearing Station. (MR)
    ✓    19 November 1944
Departed Petite Hattange 1625 via motor convoy. Traveled 6 miles to vicinity of Kaltweiler. Arrived 1715. Bivouacked troops and set up Clearing Sta. (MR)

Buddy’s Company C of the 80th Armored Medical Battalion left Audun le Tiche after five days there. The goal was to connect with Combat Command B where they had their new assignment. They were approximately 2 - 2 1/2 days behind CC B in heading east. They were to join CC B at Ritzing on 21 November. By the time Company C set up the clearing station at Kaltweiler on 19 November 1944, CC B had already made history only 12 miles to the northeast.

    ◆    75 Years Ago
    ◆    19 Nov 1944 at 1032

Combat Command B (CC B) of the 10th Armored Division reached the Saar and crossed into Germany.

A few days before the historic moment of the 19th, the 10th’s armor was well inside German positions. It had happened so swiftly and easily they had already taken 250 prisoners. The division was in two Combat Commands, A and B.

CC A (lower left, east of front line) started one flank of the attack southeast from Kerling to Laumesfeld.  Their job was to draw fire and find the positions of the German heavy guns. It worked. The positions were located and the Tigers started hitting back. The Germans fought hard and the Tigers lost three tanks and 12 men were wounded.

CC B was to head on a direct 11-mile line to seize a bridge over the  Saar at Merzig. Smaller bridges along the way had been destroyed. CC B was slowed down waiting for the rebuilding of those bridges by the engineers. By November 17 the rebuilding was accomplished and they were ready to move.

One task force entered Launstroff; another, against heavy pressure, reached Schwerdorf.

Then, at 1032 on 19 November, TF Cherry of CC B was near Eft. Lieutenant William Brown checked his maps. He dismounted from his Sherman and walked across the German border. He was the first man of Patton’s army to step onto German soil.


    ◆    19 Nov 1944
This was one of only a handful of times in his life that my dad hadn't been home for his birthday.

 Instead, he was only a few miles from CC B when they made that first symbolic step onto German soil.

Meanwhile, his wife of only six months was preparing to spend the upcoming holiday with her new in-laws, both trying to get to know and understand each other. Two families who had come from such different worlds.

#36- The Final Waiting

    ◆    75 Years Ago
    ◆    3 November 1944 - 8 November 1944
Waiting for the Green Light

After arriving at the staging area at the end of October and knowing their place in the battle line, they waited! Buddy’s Company C of the 80th Medical Battalion stayed at Lauchassee, near the 10th Division’s HQ at Mars la Tour.

    ◆    9 November 1944 - 15 November 1944
The Encirclement of Metz Begins

    ✓    9 November 1944
    ✓    Company C Morning Report

Left billeting area Lauchaussee at 1545. Traveled 46 miles by motor convoy to Audun-le-Tiche. Arrived 2345 (11:45 pm)
    ✓    10 November 1944
Established clearing station at Audun-le-Tiche and evacuated patients.
Buddy's Company was still assigned to the reserve combat command for this period. Their nearness to the division HQ continues to show that.

The 10th Armored Division was to be part of the encirclement of Metz. On November 9th they were assembled in the area around Ottange, far enough west to be safe from enemy observation. There they waited for General Walker to give the order committing the division east of the river.

The terrain in the zone assigned for the 10th Armored Division drive had little to recommend it to an armored force. The road net was limited. … Any cross-country movement would be most difficult, particularly after the autumn rains had beaten into the clay soil characteristic of this country.

On receipt of the order from the corps, it was supposed to cross the Moselle in two columns, pass through the 90th Division bridgehead wrested from the  Germans and strike quickly to effect a deep penetration. The capture of this sector would give the Americans command over one of the main corridors through which German reinforcements might be sent to Metz, or through which a retreat from that city might be made.

For five days … the 10th Armored waited for the word to cross the Moselle.  The five days were marked by orders and counter-orders, new plans and estimates--all contingent on the caprices of the flooded river and the degree of success achieved by the enemy gunners shelling the American bridge sites. At this point, the floodwaters of the Moselle were constricted by two relatively high retaining walls, and the stone piers of an earlier bridge still stood.

The 1306th Engineer General Service Regiment set to the task of building a Bailey bridge on 12 November, under orders to continue on the job regardless of enemy fire. German mortars and field guns threw in one concentration after another. Once, during the late afternoon of the 12th, work had to be suspended for a couple of hours.

On the morning of the 13th, the wind shifted, blowing away the covering smoke. German gunners laid their shells within a hundred yards of the bridge but could not get a direct hit. This time work on the Bailey continued, the engineers climbing into the superstructure clad in flak suits.

Moselle River crossing at Thionville (B)

Finally, at 0930 on 14 November, the Thionville bridge was ready--the largest Bailey bridge in the European Theater of Operations. On the afternoon of that day, CCB (Combat Command B) began the move across the Moselle, the head of the column winding along the east bank northward to the 90th Division sector. Before daylight on 15 November, the whole combat command had assembled near Kerling (about 10miles NE of  Thionville) behind the screen formed by the 359th Infantry.

From US Army in World War II, The Lorraine Campaign by Hugh Cole

So what's a Bailey Bridge? According to Wikipedia:

The Bailey bridge is a type of portable, pre-fabricated, truss bridge. It was developed by the British during World War II for military use and saw extensive use by both British and American military engineering units.

 A Bailey bridge had the advantages of requiring no special tools or heavy equipment to construct. The wood and steel bridge elements were small and light enough to be carried in trucks and lifted into place by hand, without requiring the use of a crane. The bridges were strong enough to carry tanks.

What's a Combat Command? Again, according to Wikipedia:

A Combat Command was a combined-arms military organization of comparable size to a brigade or regiment employed by armored forces of the U.S.  Army from 1942 until 1963. The structure of combat commands was task-organized and so the forces assigned to a combat command often varied from mission to mission.

The combat command was a flexible organization that did not have dedicated battalions. Instead, tank, armored infantry, and armored field artillery battalions, as well as smaller units of tank destroyers, engineers, and mechanized cavalry were assigned as needed to accomplish any given mission.

This Combat Command organization would become very helpful to all concerned within the next six weeks when the Germans made their last push in what is known as the Battle of the Bulge.

#35- Entering the Battle

    ◆    75 Years Ago
    ◆    2 November 1944
The 10th Armored Division officially joined the front line forces.

The 10th Armored and attached troops have now been on the Cotentin Peninsula for a month. They have trained, planned, waited, and watched the weather. The troops were no less frustrated than Patton himself was. They were in Europe, but not yet in the war.

As October ended it became time to move.

The 80th Armored Medical Battalion, Company C, consisted of 18 officers and 104 enlisted men.

    ✓    Company C Morning Reports- Record of Events
    ✓    26 October- Departed bivouac area 2.1 mi NW of Quettehou [at] 0405. Traveled 127.2 mi via motor convoy to bivouac 1 mi east of Falaise arrived 1715. (MR)
[13 hours travel. 9.8 mph]
    ✓    27 October- Convoy left bivouac area 1 mi east Falaise [at] 0905. Traveled 74.7 mi to bivouac area 1/2 mi east of Damville. Closed bivouac 1830 (MR)
[9 1/2 hours travel. 7.9 mph]
      • Charles M. Province in the book Patton’s Third Army, reports that During this week the “10th Armored continued to move toward the XX Corps assembly area."
    ✓    28 October- Departed area 1/2 mi east of Damville at 0906. Motor convoy arrived at bivouac sire 1/2 mi west of Claye Souilly at 1725. Traveled 83.4 mi  (MR)
[8 1/2 hours travel. 9.9 mph. Co.C most likely passed around or through Paris on this day.]
    ✓    29 October- Departed area 1/2 mi west of Claye Souilly at 0907. Motor convoyed 69.2 mi to bivouac 1 1/2 mi east of Bar Le Duc. Closed bivouac 1632. (MR)
[7 1/2 hours travel. 9.2 mph]
    ✓    30 October- Left Bivouac vicinity of Ba Le Duc 0907. Traveled via motor convoy 98 mi. Billeted company in village of Lachaussee.  Arrived 1700. (MR)
[8 hours travel. 12.3 mph]
They have traveled 452 miles in 5 days, on the road for 46.5 hrs, with an average speed of 9.7 mph. Today that trip could be made in 8 1/2 hours (with tolls).

    ✓    31 October- Set up clearing station and evacuated patients. (MR)
They were assigned to the Reserve Combat Command (CC R) and were located 8 miles south of the 10th's Division HQ at Mars Le Tour and about 20 miles southwest of the fortress city of Metz where they would soon be engaged in their first battle.

They were bivouacked in an area that was unfortunately too small for movement. Then it rained and rained  providing a very muddy, but relatively quiet few days. Nichols in Impact says that it was perhaps the worst bivouac area of war for them. Their purpose was to assist XX Corps in the containment of enemy troops in preparation for the attack on Metz. They were to move around behind the forts and cut off the retreating enemy.

The 10th was to fall into line, one-by-one behind the 90th Infantry then move through providing support and cover. From all that was reported, it was not particularly  good geography (or weather) for the tanks, but the 10th managed and found its place.

This was part of what Province in Patton's Third Army says was the continuing practice of rotating and regrouping Third Army units in contact with the Germans. It had two purposes. One was to give as much rest as possible to those troops in extended contact with the Germans for the greatest amount of time. The other was to keep the enemy guessing as to the plans of the Third Army.

When November and time for the battle around Metz came, the XX Corps (part of the Third Army) under General Walton H. Walker had a total of 30 infantry battalions, 500 tanks, and more than 700 guns. Their  plan had two phases. One was to destroy all German forces around Metz and then to switch the advance to the northeast to catch the enemy as they pulled out of Metz.

On November 2, 1944, the 10th was pulled into place and had their first awareness of combat. It was a generally quiet area and not much else was to happen for the next two weeks, but the enemy had been engaged for the first time.

War was now a reality.