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Hurtgen Forest Action, 2nd Ranger Battalion

2D Ranger Infantry Battalion

HURTGEN FOREST ACTION
(23 November-10 December 1944)

2d Ranger Battalion

Interview with: Major George S. Williams, Commander
                         Captain Edward Arnold, Executive Officer

Bn CP, Mayschoss , Germany , 21 March 1945.

Sketch-Overlay: GSGS 4414, 1:25,000, sheets 5204 & 5304. Dr. by T/3 J. M. Topete.

Interviewers: MSgt F. C. Pogue and T/3 J. M. Topete (V Corps). 

(This interview is not as compete as the one given by the Rangers on the attack to the Rhine. However, this unit was the only one involved in the fight for Hurtgen and Bergstein which had not been interviewed, so we asked for those details which they could remember. Major Williams was preparing to leave for a night problem with the cavalry, so his statements were hurried. Captain Arnold found some entries in a battalion notebook and got some information from there).

After the 28th Division had been driven out of Schmidt in early November, the 2d Ranger Battalion sent elements up to Germeter and Vossenack, where they stayed for ten days and "acted as moving targets for the German artillery" (Williams).

When the 121st Infantry, 8th Infantry Division, started its attack on the road-block leading to Hurtgen on the 23 November, Company B of the 2d Rangers gave flank protection south of Hurtgen. The patrols which they sent to K Company during the fight were the only contacts that company had with the outside world. The Rangers were then sent back to Purple Heart Corner (006316) where they stayed for about a week (Williams ).

On 7 December Lt. Col. James E. Rudder, commander of the Rangers, went back to First Army Headquarters on some unknown mission. In his absence Captain George S. Williams, the executive officer, and Captain Harvey Cook, S-2, were called to 8th Division Headquarters where they were given the mission of going to Bergstein. They were to relieve elements of CDR, 5th Armored Division, there and to go outside town and take, Hill 400.5. The 5th Armored Division had been badly hurt there. There was little information about the terrain and no one had seen the


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ground. They wanted the Rangers to attack at 0300 in the morning. The Rangers believed that it was better to attack at dawn. Major Williams indicated, however, that "I'm not sure that it isn't better for well trained troops to find their way at night than to hold up and  take a chance on being hit by artillery at daylight". However, the Rangers didn't want to attack the place cold (Williams).  

Captain Williams returned to the assembly area of the Rangers about 2130. Trucks were ordered to move towards Kleinhau over a road which had already been reconnoitered. The trucks were in a dispersed area and "we had a heck of a time getting them together." Captain Edward Arnold led the truck column to Kleinhau. There the companies detrucked in a defiladed position and began their march to Bergstein. The companies were in the order: A, B, C, D, E and F. While the companies were moving the Command Post group, led by Lt. Col. Rudder, who had returned from First Army shortly before, and  Major Williams (the promotion of the captain to his majority had been announced just before this march began) proceeded to Brandenberg. There Col. Rudder announced that Major Williams was in command of the battalion. Col. Rudder had just been given command of the 109th Infantry, 28th Division. Captain Arnold pointed out: "It was some­thing of a low blow to George because he knew it was going to be a bad fight and you don't always change command in the middle of an operation. (Col. James E. Rudder had been with the 2d Rangers in the States and England and had built up quite a reputation for the unit. It was quite a blow to all the members of the unit to see him go (Williams).

At Brandenberg Major Williams contacted Col. Glen Anderson, commander of Combat Command "R", 5th Armored Division. He outlined the difficulties which his unit was facing at Bergstein and gave the group a guide to the armored infantry company Command Post in Bergstein. A Battalion Command Post was set up on the north edge of town. Captain Harold K. Slater went to the west edge of town to contact elements of the 5th Armored Division. By this time Companies A, B and C had arrived


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in Bergstein and were sent on through without stopping to take up defensive positions to the west and south of Bergstein. (See overlay) There were no troops in these positions, the men of the 5th Armored were all in cellars and they provided no guides. (In this connection Major Williams said that t hey learned that when one wants to hold a town, you must stay outside it. Companies A, B and C stayed outside Bergstein and got very few casualties) (Williams).

Between 0300-0500 Companies D, E and F reached positions in Bergstein. They had no guides. Thirteen prisoners were taken in the east end of town. At 0700 the companies were drawn up on a line of departure at the eastern edge of town and at 0730 they started an assault on Hill 400.5 (this was 7 [December]). E Company was left to occupy Bergstein, while Companies D and F made the assault. No artillery preparation was used as it was desired to surprise the enemy. Captain Salter sent a patrol up on the hill. The patrol contacted the enemy and at 0730 the Germans up there left the top of the hill. Just as they left they fired a red flare and artillery and mortar fire began to fall from across the river, from the north and from Schmidt. The enemy had observation for 200 degrees. They poured in mortar, 88, 120, self-propelled gun fire. The hill was considered so important that later a German general was reported to have offered special awards to any unit which would retake the hill (Williams).

The Rangers took the hill by rushing it. One squad of D Company went over the top of the hill down towards the front. This group didn't have many casualties, although the next group was hard hit. Once artillery opened up on the men who were on the hill they either had to seek cover in the bunker on top of the hill or start digging (Williams).

The Germans counterattacked Hill 400.5 at 0930. This was one of five attacks which the Rangers were to withstand during two days. Most of the attacks came from the south and east, although sometimes troops came down from the north. Each time the attacking force was from 100 to 150 men. To the south and east


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there were woods close to the American positions on the hill, so that it was possi­ble for them to advance under cover almost all the way. In some cases Germans were in and around the bunker on the hill before the Americans were aware of their presence. Once on the hill they attempted to rush the positions. They used machine guns, burp guns, rifles and threw potato masher grenades. Hand-to-hand fights developed on top of the hill in which some use was made of bayonets. The Rangers, realizing that it was necessary to hold the hill to retain Bergstein, called for artillery and the artillery observer of the 5th Armored Division-a Lt. Kettlehut (no one knew his first name but they all agreed "he was the best man they ever worked with") called in all the field artillery available. The Rangers gave map coordinates and he put down the fire, some of it so close that the Rangers were asked if they wanted the fire in at that point. They didn't care because the Germans were infiltrating even into town. This counterattack together with a second one at 1500, was beaten back. ( Arnold ).

At 0740 on 8 December E Company indicated that they were being counterattacked from the north by troops who had come from Obermaubach. At 0808 artillery fire, which was already on the way, was requested on the road to the north. This pro­ved effective and the Germans withdrew ( Arnold ).

The heaviest counterattack of the fight was launched at 1500 on 8 December. Between 100-150 men supported by direct fire of 88's, self-propelled guns, mortars and artillery, attacked from all sides. Five of them got within 100 yards of the church which was being used as a first aid station. Artillery fell all around the aid station, one round entering one window and leaving through another, taking away part of the second window. This attack lasted for 2-3 hours and was beaten back by artillery. A fifth attack came at 1300 but was soon stopped again by artillery. No attacks were made on Companies A and B, although Company C in the center of Bergstein was attacked by units which crossed the Roer and came down a trail to the town. Most of the counterattacks crossed from positions due east or southeast ( Arnold ).


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The key to the resistance to the counterattacks was artillery. At one time Lt. Kettlehut brought down fire from all artillery available in Corps-18 battalions in all. 155's, 75 self-propelled, 8 inch and 240 MM guns were used. The fire was used not only to keep the enemy out of the positions, but also to hem them in while the infantry destroyed them with mortars and small arms fire. When the Germans tried to retreat they ran into a box barrage ( Arnold ).

Evacuation of wounded was difficult during the fight. The first aid station was in the bunker on the top of Hill 400.5. As many as 20 wounded accumulated at a time. The men had to be hand carried down to litter jeeps. Nearly every jeep in the battalion was used for purposes of evacuation. Three were hit while evacuating wounded ( Arnold ).

Command difficulties developed at the over-crowded command post during the fight. The CP was set up at the edge of Bergstein in a cellar (10 by 12 feet). The room was filled with people. At one time a direct hit was suffered which caved in part of the roof. The commanding officer and his staff were on almost continuous shift for 72 hours. The communications officer, Lt. Verdie Moss, and Sgt. Johnson ran the message center in the command post. They had their hands full during the action. All communications back to high headquarters had to go through the rear command post back in the woods. As a result messages were a little late. One message from 8th Division arrived six hour later after the Rangers had beaten back their first counterattack: "Hold all your positions. Do not withdraw. Dig in deep and provide overhead cover" ( Arnold ).

Companies D and  F were hard hit in the attack. At one time not more than 15 fighting men to each company were available for duty. Casualties between the 7‑9 December were as follows:

Died of Wounds

4

Killed

19

SWA

26

LWA

60

SIA

6

LIA

14

MIA

4


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(These statistics were furnished by Sgt Arthur Williams, acting sergeant major, 2d Ranger Battalion).

At 0240 9 March the 2d Ranger Battalion was relieved by the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, 8th Division, and the 2d Rangers returned to their old bivouac area ( Arnold )        

M/Sgt F. C. Pogue
T/3 J. M. Topete

SOURCE: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 407, Records of the U.S. Army Adjutant General, World War II Records, Combat Interviews, 8th Infantry Division, Hürtgen Forest, Box 24025.