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World War II Experiences - "On to Trier"
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 field exercise.

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 ist Hans."

"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 give up.

"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 (MOWW)
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: jackbird22@cox.net.
 
Published online: 11/23/2003.
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