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45thinfgrl 06-18-2002 10:47 PM

The Platoon That Suckered The Siegfried Line
 
The Platoon That Suckered the Siegfried Line
By Major Jack L. Treadwell
-Article source unknown.

There was hell fire in front of the Siegfried Line that day-hell fire, and suffering, and death! There were men blinded, and men with their guts out. There was the platoon with 50 percent casualties-and up. There was Lieutenant Sanders on top of an enemy pillbox-and he couldn?t get inside for blood or guts. There were enemy machine guns firing in unison and in harmony from apertures screened by armor plates. There were 88 MM antitank guns, firing fuse quick HE as well as impact, and there were mortars. And then there were 15 cases of cognac.
I was in command of Fox Company at the time and my first sergeant, Pete Petriveto, from Ohio, was the one who found the liquor. He and I and Mitch Mitchell, our forward artillery observer, were billeted in a small village south of Nieder-Wurzback, Germany. One night about dusk, Pete drove up with a jeep and trailer loaded to the guards with cases of choice beer. Where he found it I don?t remember, but I do recall that my men never did share in this dangerous booty.
We?d been attacking since 15th March, but it was not until the night of the 17th that we found ourselves right up against the buzz saw of what the Germans hoped and believed was an impregnable defense. The Siegfried Line was composed of a great number of reinforced concrete pillboxes, so placed as to support and defend each other linked together by head high trenches. The concrete of those fortifications was six feet thick. The apertures through which the machine guns fired were screened by three quarter inch armor plates against which, we were to discover, rifle grenades were ineffective. Above ground the pillboxes appeared to be only low mounds of earth, and they were so cleverly camouflaged that you could be standing right on top of one and never know it.
The night of the 17th we received new maps, together with such data as G2 had been able to gather about the Siegfried defenses-which wasn?t much. It was quite clear that the next day we?d be called upon to make ?the run for the roses.? In the circumstances, therefore, I was forced to take a very dim view of Pete?s load of liberated liquor. ?Not a single bottle is to be opened!? I ordered, and that?s the way it was. When we swept forward the next morning, we left behind us 15 cases of choice spirits, a situation calculated to break any soldier?s heart.
We shoved off about six A.M. and encountered only light resistance until noon, by which time we?d fought our way up to and through the little town of Assweiler. Once beyond the town, however, we were taken under very heavy fire, and things began to happen in a hurry. Our attack was in open wedge formation on a front of about a thousand yards. On my right was the first platoon commanded by Lieutenant Schlict Billy. He was a Choctaw Indian from Oklahoma, and had been commissioned on the battlefield and was a courageous and resourceful fighting man in whom I had the utmost confidence.
Lieutenant Sandy Sanders, a husky, 21 year old replacement officer, had the second platoon-on my left. Pete and Ben, my radiomen, were with me, in the center and a few yards behind the leading platoons. In the back of us was the third platoon, under quiet, blonde Sergeant Elder, a skinny boy from Cleveland, Ohio. Opposite us in the Siegfried fortifications was a seasoned Nazi division, backed up by the 29th Panzer Division. These were tough troops who knew all the tricks; it soon became apparent that we weren?t going to push them around any!
In two hours of attacking we took heavy casualties-30, 40 men either killed or wounded, which will give you some idea. Then, all at once, Schlicht Billy scored, but he found he had a tiger by the tail!
?I?m in this pillbox and I can?t get out!?
That was his message to me via radio and his position was indeed difficult. What had happened was this. Finding his platoon unable to advance in conventional fashion, Billy had taken three or four men and started crawling Indian style. They?d been successful in reaching a pillbox, killing four Germans, and getting inside the fortification. They?d been observed, however, from flanking pillboxes and now they were immobilized inside. Every time they tried to get out they were thrown back by a hail of German machine gun and rifle fire.
?I can?t get out,? repeated Billy on the radio, ?and I can?t get the rest of my platoon up!? ?Stay where you are!? I ordered, ?I?ll try to get to you!?
Whatever the hazard, whatever the cost, Billy must be maintained in his position and strengthened. It was our foot in the door of the Siegfried Line, and it must be kept there. Cautiously, with Ben and Pete, I started working my way over the 400 yards, which separated us from the rest of the first platoon. On the way Ben?s radio equipment took a direct hit and was knocked out but finally we joined the remains of the third platoon.
Taking command I ordered the men forward up the draw Billy had used to get close to the pillbox. The distance was about 1,000 yards. We lost ten men killed, half as many wounded, but we finally made it and joined Billy in the three room pillbox. It was a complete miniature fort; believe me, with bunks for 25 men in tiers of four, and water and rations for several months. That, indeed, was the pattern of the Siegfried Line. Every pillbox was self-sustaining and could be sealed off to become a separate impregnable fortress.
While I?d been working my way to Billy, Lieutenant Sanders had not been idle. In the hail of fire from the interlocking German pillboxes, any attempt to advance in strength would have been suicidal, and Sanders recognized that I had, in fact ordered the withdrawal of the rest of the company sometime before Sanders, however, was in touch with us by radio, and almost before I knew it he tumbled into our position with five or six of his men. This gave us strength even though we weren?t getting anywhere in particular. It was now four or five P.M. Back at battalion, Lieutenant Colonel John W. Kaine was jubilant at our having cracked the fortified Nazi line, and was urging me by radio to hold on with all we had.
Well what to do? That was my problem. We were inside one pillbox in the Siegfried Line, but we couldn?t stay there indefinitely. We?d have to break out, capture other nearby pillboxes and consolidate our position. So I sent Sandy Sanders on a tough mission. I ordered him to try to work his way through the communicating trenches to the pillbox on our right, and capture it.
Sandy made it to the pillbox, but it didn?t work the way we?d hoped it would. He actually got on top of the pillbox and couldn?t go anywhere and couldn?t get inside; he wouldn?t do the defenders any harm from where he was, he was simply stuck in a highly exposed position under murderous fire!
We finally got 155 MM self-propelled guns up to the town of Biesingen, and Sandy tried to call their fire to knaw out the pillbox, but it wasn?t successful. He was wounded three separate times while in his exposed position, tumbled back into the trench system, worked his way back to our pillbox, and was evacuated that night under cover of darkness.
Just before dark, Colonel Kiane managed to get to us in the pillbox. He?d come up in a tank and he was very thoughtful as I briefed him on our position. It was both promising, and frustrating. We were actually inside the Siegfried Line, but we were immobilized. More men wouldn?t help; it was the kind of situation where a concentration of troops would just invite slaughter.
During the night we did everything we could think of to break out of our bunker and capture those adjoining. We got pole and satchel charges from the engineers, and I sent out several patrols to try to use the TNT against the pillbox on our right, from which we received heavy fire every time we showed ourselves. The Germans were out in force, however, and my men never could get to this second pillbox.
Lieutenant Billy was wounded during the night and had to be evacuated. Also, the rest of Fox Company had come up and joined us. I had advised the battalion commander against sending any more men into the position. Just before dawn on the 18th, I ordered all-out efforts to attack both to the right and left, but once more the Germans beat us off with heavy casualties. Then, right after daylight, the Nazis mounted a strong counter attack through the trench system, and it was all we could do to beat them off in turn, in the most desperate sort of fighting.
About nine o?clock on the bright, cool morning of the 18th, I stood in the head trench near our pillbox and decided I?d had enough. My reasoning was quite cool and calculated, and it went something like this: First, I?d ordered everybody else to do everything I could think of. They?d tried and failed, so it looked as if it was up to me to try the job myself. Next, in war there occasionally arises a peculiar situation in which one man alone can accomplish more than a company. I had a hunch this might be one of those times. Looking off to the left, about 800 yards across the six-inch grass I could see the low dome of the pillbox that was keeping us pinned down from that side. If I could just knock that one out, I figured, we?d have a chance to break out to the left. So I simply climbed out of the trench and took off alone over open terrain. The enemy could see me quite plainly, and I drew a storm of machine gun and rifle fire. I could see the dirt being kicked up by the bullets around my feet, and before I?d gone very far a couple of mortar batteries started throwing steel at me.
I was armed with two grenades and a .45-caliber ?grease gun? with four extra clips. When I dropped down into the trench behind the pillbox, there was the six-foot steel back door-wide open! I dashed for it and found a German soldier standing right inside the doorway. I put a burst through him, sprayed a second burst around the room, and then tossed in one of my grenades. Five seconds later there was a shattering explosion, and in a minute or two several Germans scrambled up out of the pillbox yelling ?Kamerad!? with their hands in the air.
That first one was a three-room pillbox. I?d killed everybody in the big room of course. The survivors had been in the adjoining rooms with the doors closed. Their surrender was a sheer fluke. If they?d stayed where they were with the connecting steel doors closed, I couldn?t have done a thing about it. Instead, they jumped to the conclusion that their positions had been overrun, threw down their weapons, and gave up. I waved them back through their own fire to where my men were in the pillbox we?d captured, and I started for the next bunker several yards away to my left.
Here again I found an open back door and I virtually repeated my earlier performance, although I didn?t used a grenade on this one, I must have killed more men in the second pillbox-fewer came out-but among them was the lieutenant who was in command of a complex of several pillboxes. Also, although I didn?t know it at the time, the German communications equipment was in this pillbox. When the Nazis climbed up and surrendered, it was abandoned.
By this time, I figured I was in so deep I might as well keep going, so I took out for the next pillbox in line-and another open back door! The Germans in the pillboxes to the rear who could see what I was doing were frantic by this time, and the hail of fire around me was fantastic. But I hopped through the curtain of bullets and mortar bursts without receiving a scratch.
When I rounded in behind the third pillbox I saw a German soldier standing out in the open on the other side of the door, leaning on his rifle, smoking a cigarette. He had his back to me, and he never even knew I was there. I cut him down with a burst from the grease gun, and then went on to spray the inside of the bunker. Once more I heard loud yelling and screaming inside, and they started coming out with their hands on their heads.
I kept right on going to pillbox number four. By this time the men of Fox Company were following me up and I had quite a steady stream of German prisoners moving back to them. By going over open terrain from one pillbox to the next I avoided the Nazis in the connecting trenches and they never knew what was going on until it was too late.
I got pillbox number four-again with the back door hanging open-and went on to capture a total of six so-called ?impregnable? fortifications. My technique in each instance was essentially the same-a blast of fire through the open back door which killed or wounded most of the Germans in the fist room; then the rest surrendered. I?ve always thought that my luck in knocking out their communications in that second pillbox had a lot to do with the relative ease with which the others gave up. Being out of touch with their officer, and suddenly receiving a burst of fire right into the bunker, they just assumed they?d been overrun, and so they surrendered.
By the time I cleaned out the sixth pillbox I?d had it. The whole operation hadn?t taken more than ten minutes!
Our doggies, of course, immediately exploited this breach in the Siegfried defenses. They did it so thoroughly that eventually, the whole division poured through the gap.
For me the war was pretty nearly over. I?d already been wounded three times; once in Italy; twice in France. Then on my birthday-30th March-near the little German town of Homburg a German rifle bullet severed my windpipe, and I was put out of action for the rest of the war.
Editor?s note: For this one-man assault on the Siegfried Line, Major Treadwell was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became one of the most decorated fighting men in the armed services.

dlittlemarsh 07-14-2002 07:05 AM

45th Thunderbirds
 
1 Attachment(s)
My name is Debbie and I am seeking information on my dad who was also with the 45th. He was appointed Sgt. of F co. April 1 1949 in Seoul, Korea. My father always told me that he never fought in any battles while in the military. Said he never picked up a gun...ha! I didn't find out anything of his military career until after his death in 1989 and boy was I surprised! He was awarded 3 bronze stars for his service in Korea. He did 2 tours in Korea. One with the reg. Army and agin with the Ark/Ok National Guard. I have attached a photo of him with a friend who I would love for someone to identify. My father, Les Rodgers is the one on the right. Any info about my father would be deeply appreciated.
God Bless our Soldiers then and now!
Debbie


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