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World War II Experiences - Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
World War II Experiences - Good Grief Sir, We're in Trier!
by LTC Hans W. Vogel, Ret.

The First Battalion of the 376th Infantry Regiment experienced a truly bizarre occurrence not long after the time during which I and a PW joined one of its patrols in order to aid in the successful capture and clearing of four stubborn pill boxes. (See "On to Trier" at http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/accounts/hansvogel.aspx.) Having had to leave behind my jeep with HQ, 94th Infantry Division while attached to the 376th Combat Team, I traveled with HQ personnel of the First Battalion.

The 376th Combat Team consisted of the 376th Infantry Regiment, detached from the 94th Infantry Division, and the 10th Armored Division - all elements of General George Patton's Third Army. The CT had succeeded in its assigned mission of breaking out of the Saar-Moselle Triangle, penetrating the Siegfried Line by establishing a bridgehead at Ockfen across the Saar River from a jumping-off point at Ayl, and clearing the pillboxes impeding the main road leading to the City of Trier - a major German military hub and planned gateway for Third Army's pending dash to the Rhine River. All that remained was the taking of Trier itself, a formidable former ancient Roman outpost.

The events surrounding my Trier adventure are outlined in 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, 1945), pp. 161 ff:

While the Second Battalion was operating in the Konz area, the Third, which had taken Oberemmel the day before, continued northwards and moved into Kommlingen encountering no more resistance than the Second had in Wiltingen. The First Battalion was suddenly called north to help the 10th Armored take Trier.

The first Colonel Miner heard of this new mission for the First Battalion was that his battalion was detached from the rest of the Regiment and was to assist the 10th Armored. How and when it was to assist them was not made very clear.

The engineer officer who arrived in Schoden on the night of March 1st to guide the Battalion to its new location did not throw much additional light on the subject. The battalion was to help take Trier and was to start out as soon as the trucks arrived. As to this he was both clear and emphatic. As to how it was to get to Trier and what the situation was between there and Schoden he was far less definite.

Had he reconnoitered the route to be followed Colonel Miner had asked him.

No, he hadn't but he was quite sure everything would work out all right.

This was hardly a promising beginning. The Battalion was to move by truck, taking everything with them, even the kitchen train. To get to Trier it would have to follow one of the narrow swaths that the armor had cut through ten miles of enemy occupied territory, and the prospective guide was apparently relying on sheer homing instinct to get the First through.

But by 0200 the column was ready to move. Having picked up Company A in Wiltingen, it moved out from there in a motorized column of companies; A, B, C and D, then Headquarters. Up front were Colonel Miner and his staff and the engineer guide. Bringing up the rear was Major Zimmerman, the Executive Officer, with Chaplain Buchanan and a number of medics. With them were the kitchen, baggage and ammunition trains. The night was pitch dark, and, to make matters worse, the roads were narrow and muddy and in places almost non-existent.

Everything seemed to be progressing as well as could be expected however until the Battalion column halted in the vicinity of Pellingen and Colonel Miner discovered that not only was Major Zimmerman's entourage, complete with all the supply trains, missing from the column, but that no contact could be established with them by radio.

It soon became evident that the rear portion of the convoy had gone astray in the darkness and taken a parallel route towards Trier. The story of the lost portion of the convoy is told by Chaplain Buchanan:

"Here we were 10 to 12 miles from Trier. The fighting elements of the convoy were off ahead somewhere following the engineer lieutenant. In our small group we had the radio section of Battalion Headquarters, the anti-tank platoon with their 57mm guns, the Battalion medics, the Battalion Surgeon, Executive Officer, Adjutant and Chaplain. To be utterly frank our fire power was rather negligible. Yet somehow we had to win through those hills and get to Trier for they would be needing us.

"The situation was vague, but it was obvious and important that we find the main body of the Battalion before dawn. We very much wished to avoid the embarrassment of having the bright light of morning catch us wandering about with the enemy in position on either side of our path. With our meagre (sic) fire power and rather noticeable train of kitchen trucks, it might easily prove to be somewhat of a sad scramble.

"So, cautiously, but with an undercurrent of urgent desire to get somewhere, we rolled on towards Trier. The shell bursts on the horizon became more frequent. Now and then we came upon a burning vehicle which barred our way and had to be by-passed. Quickly we rolled on, racing with the breaking dawn. Here and there along the highway stood muted pillboxes. Everybody was alert now.

"Several miles up ahead tracers from 20mm and 40mm guns partially lighted the sky-line in front of the city. Sometimes they seemed to be traveling in our direction - so that we had a tendency to watch them a bit closely and with some misgivings. But always they fell below the horizon. Just then, as I looked to the left, I saw a group of tanks in position along a defile near the highway. Several of them were warming up.

"For a moment the convoy moved more slowly. For that split second we all peered apprehensively into the darkness with but one common thought - whose tanks - friendly or enemy? Fortunately for us they turned out to be Shermans, so we rolled on. Later none of us was quite able to explain why we had not paused here and investigated the why and wherefore of the Shermans in the defile. We were still a bit anxious to get to Trier, so it seemed.

"A few minutes later the rumble of howitzers and heavy guns became quite ominous. The flashes became very distinct. We were very definitely on the edge of the city now. We rolled past two huge pillboxes flanking the road, and then came to a sudden stop. To our right several civilians, seeing us, turned about and ran into their houses.

"As several of us jumped from our vehicles, we saw a dark form running towards us, hands held high, and once again we heard that familiar greeting "kamerad!" Our interpreter, Sergeant Hans Vogel, questioned the Boche and concluded we were in Trier. The German was on his way to some other soldiers, supposedly in position to our rear - our presence in his path had definitely overwhelmed him. He told us the Americans were fighting to gain entrance on the north edge of the city. We, it seemed, were near the south edge.

"It was now quite clear that the gun batteries no more than 100 yards to our right front were German. They were firing with great rapidity across the city, giving their all to stem the tide of the insistent Americans. We were very close, and on a hill, slightly above their position. We could see the gun crews at work and hear them as they snapped off their orders.

"We had entered the wrong end of the city, and now found ourselves sitting on a slight grade to the rear of the enemy's artillery batteries. We had several 50 cal. machine guns and three 57's. Sergeant Andrew Brusgard suggested to the Major that we hurriedly set them on the high ground, send the kitchen train back, keeping just enough vehicles to make a getaway after we had given the howitzer and "ack ack" batteries everything we had in the way of fifties and 57's.

"It might have worked - however, it was quite light now and any moment they would detect this motley crew at their rear. We weren't at all sure of their strength or their disposition. The mess sergeants and kitchen personnel were not spoiling for such an uncertain fracas, and our fire and manpower being what it was, the Major resisted the temptation to have a try at it and ordered the convoy to run down towards the partial roadblock, execute a sharp left turn, and hit the road out of the city towards Pellingen.

"This was done quite rapidly and with a definite smoothness except for one kitchen driver who got stuck in the roadblock, and could not find his reverse in the excitement. As the two and a halves roared up the hill away from the city, the Germans apparently became aware of our presence and started to take potshots. But we were headed away from a strange, and what might have been a grim experience and there was no stopping us. German civilians peeked furtively from behind curtains as we rolled by, slightly confused perhaps at this strange assault on their ancient city. But they were not to be thus confused for long. Just two miles down the highway we met the Shermans roaring up for their first assault on this side of the town. Their reconnaissance captain stopped us and asked us where the devil we had been. We quickly told our story. Everybody laughed. Wishing him and his gang good shooting, we continued to the rear. It was a happy ending. We could laugh now and enjoy our luck. But it might have been rough had the Boche known they had unwanted and slightly confused visitors at their back door-and so early in the morning too!"


We had survived a very close encounter with a fate which might have brought upon us injury, death or capture. Had we not been successful in escaping when we did, we can only speculate about whether the CT troops attacking from the north might have been able to save any of us after taking Trier. I, for one, am extremely happy that events turned as they did in our favor. While we can laugh about it now, I shudder to think about how very badly things could just as easily have gone against us.

It would have been interesting to have had an opportunity to sit down and chat a bit with the German soldier I interrogated for Major Zimmerman and who shocked us with the revelation that we were behind enemy lines. To this day I can’t recall whether we took him with us or let him go. I never saw him again after our motley crew decided to high-tail it back to our own lines - pots and pans rattling all the way.

- - -

Hans Vogel's jeep "Purple Heart". It was named the "Purple Heart" after a mortar shell landed under it. LtC. Vogel was not in it at the time, having jumped out and taken cover during the shelling. The name is emblazoned on the front below the windshield. He and his driver, Gideon Gelernter are in the photo.

Note the wire catcher on the front bumper. Jeep drivers during combat traveled most of the time with the windshield covered with canvas, folded forward and down. This was done so that the sun would not be reflected by it, giving away the vehicle's location. The Germans, learning of this, would string a taut and almost invisible wire across roads at a height where passengers in the jeep could be decapitated. So, we countered with hooked angle iron welded to the front bumper that would snag and snap the wire.


Copyright © 2006 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: 02/26/2006.
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