World War II Experiences - "On to Trier"
by LTC Hans W. Vogel
After the territory lost during the Battle of the Bulge was finally regained
and the manpower losses replenished, the Third Army was unshackled, ready to
crack the Siegfried Line and drive to the Rhine River.
As a Staff Sgt. with Interrogation of Prisoners of War (IPW) Team 98 in late
February 1945, I had just been attached to the 376th Combat Team, which
combined the foot soldiers from the 376th Infantry Regiment detached from the
94th Infantry Division with the tanks from the 10th Armored Division, both
units of General George S. Patton's fabled Third Army.
Shortly after I joined it, the 376th breached the vaunted German Siegfried Line
by establishing a bridgehead across the Saar River at Ockfen south of the
important city and German military stronghold in the Saar Region - Trier. Its
ultimate mission was to attack and take Trier clearing the way for Third Army
to launch a major offensive to reach the Rhine River. My duty with the combat
team was to interrogate freshly-captured PWs in order to glean intelligence
helpful in achieving the mission.
The Table of Organization (TO) for IPW teams called for two commissioned and
four non-commissioned officers ranging from Captain through Corporal. One of
IPW Team 98's two officers had already become a casualty, leaving it with just
one. We interrogators were truly victims of the TO because each of us had
undergone and survived identical rigorous training at the Military Intelligence
Training Center at Camp Ritchie, Maryland. Once in a combat environment, a
team member was expected to perform his interrogation duties under the
direction of the S-2 of his assigned unit.
In late 1942, after undergoing 13 weeks of basic training in Infantry at Camp
Roberts, California, I stayed on to become a member of the cadre training new
recruits for overseas combat duty. In mid-1943 orders arrived assigning me to
the City College of New York on Manhattan Island to undergo six months of
in-depth German language and culture training. Of the approximately 100
students in my class at CCNY, only 15 of us were sent to the Military
Intelligence Training Center (MITC) at Camp Ritchie, Maryland to receive
intensive classroom and field training in interrogation and
counter-intelligence techniques. The training concluded with a grueling 9-day
Upon completion of training at MITC, we were furloughed to go home and say our
good-byes. After our return we were shipped overseas to an Intelligence
personnel pool based in Broadway, England. I spent 10 days of extra training at
the Order of Battle school in London. On my return to Broadway, IPW Team 98 was
formed and attached to the 94th Infantry Division, which was preparing to cross
the English Channel for France in early September 1944.
Disappointingly, the 94th Infantry Division drew the rather routine and boring
duty of containing the German U-boat pockets of St. Nazaire and Lorient on the
Brittany coast of France - Germany's main submarine bases in France. Each of
these bases had between 25,000 and 35,000 German Army, Air Force and Naval
personnel. They remained in German hands until the end of the war.
The 66th Infantry Division was attacked by German submarines while crossing the
English Channel resulting in a loss of about 40% of its personnel. What
remained of the 66th was ordered to replace the 94th at Lorient and St.
Nazaire. Some 20 years later, I became acquainted with a neighbor, a former
officer with the 66th's engineer battalion, who had survived the crossing. We
remained very close friends for over 30 years.
The 94th, in turn, replaced the 66th, which had been assigned to join Patton's
Third Army with duty at the base of the Saar-Moselle Triangle north of Metz.
The Triangle was formed by the junction of the Moselle and Saar Rivers to the
north with the apex approximately at Trier. The base of the Triangle to the
south between the two rivers was called the Siegfried Switch Line and was
heavily fortified with pillboxes and anti-tank traps. The Base acted as a door
which could swing back to the main Siegfried Line on the Saar River.
Since this all took place in the aftermath of the Bulge, our troops were
limited to attacks at battalion strength or less at any given time. It was
called a ‘pin-pricking' operation whose purpose it was to deflate gradually the
earlier von Rundstedt winter offensive gains. This tactic resulted in the 94th
suffering a turnover of about 15,000 troops over the next six weeks - twice the
fighting strength of the division - primarily to frostbite and/or exposure.
The immediate mission of the 376th Combat Team was to clear out the pillboxes
that impeded access to the road behind the Siegfried Line leading to Trier;
then to attack and take control of that major military city. Trier was also a
history-laden city, established as a Roman outpost centuries before.
The attack began on the morning of February 27th and was successful. Over 250
Germans were captured and another 38 were killed or wounded. The operation
continued successfully on the following day; but four pillboxes still stood
stubbornly in the way effectively halting further movement toward taking Trier.
I now cite the official History of the 376th Infantry Regiment Between the
Years of 1921 - 1945, compiled, edited, and printed by the Regimental
Historical Committee, Information and Education Office in 1945 starting on page
156 to elaborate on how these four pillboxes were conquered.
"The chances for assaulting the pillboxes by daylight were fading rapidly, and
finally disappeared altogether, for it soon became dark as the inside of the
hat. The TD's which were in position on the west bank of the Saar, waiting
to support the assault had already radioed that it was too dark to see their
targets and were signing off. It looked like rifles and grenades against
concrete and MG 42's.
"Knowing that the chances of taking the pillboxes by assault in time of for the
Second Battalion jump-off were slim indeed, Captain Brehio, the Battalion S-2
suggested that a PW who had just been brought in by a patrol be made to lead a
small patrol to the to the key pillbox and attempt to take it by trick. S/Sgt.
Vogel of PW Team 98 speaks German fluently and had done some splendid work
along this line only a few days before in Beurig, accounting for over 60
prisoners. Major Zimmerman, the Battalion Executive Officer, agreed, and
Captain Bowden said he'd try anything once. Sgt. Vogel persuaded the prisoner
to take an active part in the plot, much against his wishes and finally
everything was ready.
"T/Sgt. Fred Peters reported with a half a dozen men and the patrol was under
way. The PW led off followed by a .45 in the hand of Sgt. Vogel. Behind them
were Major Zimmerman, Captains Brehio and Bowden, Pfc. Davidson and Bennet of
Dog Company as well as Sergeant Peters and his six riflemen. Just when everyone
was hoping it would remain dark, the moon decided to appear; only a sliver was
showing, but it wouldn't be long now before it would be full.
"As rapidly as possible Vogel prodded the Kraut along and the others followed
close on their heels. Down the trench they went, across the road, into an open
field, across another trench and then a sudden halt. The patrol spread out into
a skirmish line automatically. The PW called "Fritz" No answer. "Fritz, hier
"Ja, was is los?"
"Nichts, I am coming over." At this point the last man in the patrol started
down the hill from the rear, silhouetted against the moon which by now had
reached its full brightness. One the of the Kraut sentries, sensing that
something was wrong, started for the pillbox, Sgt. Vogel got on his heels. Sgt.
Peters and a couple of riflemen who had been crawling forward grabbed the other
two sentries in the trench. Vogel walked into the pillbox and shouted in
German, "Hands up, it's all over." Captain Brehio, who was inside at the door,
checked the 19 prisoners for arms as they moved out in single file.
"One PW was kept inside for questioning and said that the other pillboxes were
unoccupied since all the crews had assembled for orders. A quick check
confirmed this, and the other pillboxes were immediately occupied.... Vogel
searched for a code for the telephone but could not find one, so it was decided
to try one long and three short rings. However, the Kraut that answered could
not be convinced that it would be a good idea to come over with his friends and
"One PW, an NCO, was standing at rigid attention in front of Vogel and giving
forth with what appeared to be pretty "hot" language. Vogel seemed to be
getting a big kick out of it. When asked about it he said that the NCO had been
in charge of the four pillboxes, and was very indignant, claiming that the
patrol had played a dirty trick on him."
My awards for activities during February and March of 1945 were: a battlefield
commission, two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman's Badge. The latter was
especially meaningful to me since my branch of service was Military
Intelligence. Very brave infantrymen, who too often remain insufficiently
recognized for their valuable contribution to any victory, had accepted me as
one of their own. I believe I had always remained an infantryman at heart.
The greatest tribute to the 376th Combat Team was made by Reichsmarschall
Hermann Goering during the interview after his capture, as cited in the History
of the 94th Infantry Division in World War II edited by Lt. Laurence G. Byrnes,
published by the Infantry Journal Press in 1948 on page 363.
"When the first break in the Siegfried Line was made near Aachen, Der Fuhrer
was very irritated. After that came the breakthrough near Trier, and that
was wholly incomprehensible. We could not believe that these fortifications
could be penetrated. The breakthrough near Trier was particularly depressing.
That breakthrough and the capture of the Remagen Bridge were two great
catastrophies (sic) for the German cause."
Hans William Vogel, LTC AUS Perpetual Member, Military Order of World Wars
Copyright © 2003 Hans William Vogel
Written by Hans William Vogel. If you have questions or comments on this
article, please contact Hans William Vogel at:
Published online: 11/23/2003.