(Part 3 a continuation of Part 2, Starting September 1944)
Ordered to the Ninth Army sector of the West Wall, the 8th Division began the long move from the Crozon Peninsula to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg on September 26th. Foot troops and tracked vehicles made the journey by rail. Motorized elements made the journey by convoy, arriving at Eittelbruck, Luxembourg on September 30th.
The front assigned to the 8th Division was a stretch of more than 23 miles along the Our River, which was the German-Luxembourg boundary. It was divided into three general sectors. In the central sector approximately thirty thousand yards wide,no American offensive had been undertaken. This was the sector assigned to the 28th Infantry.
The Regimental headquarters was set up in the small town of Grosbuss, using the local kindergarten. At 0800 hours on the 1st of October, the Commanding Officer took his Battalion commanders on a detailed Reconnaissance of the area to be occupied by the Regiment, pointing out general locations that each were to move into. By 2000 hours that night the 1st and 3rd Battalions were in their new positions. The 2nd Battalion remaining in reserve. The following day, Regimental Headquarters was moved to the vicinity of Consthum. The Siegfried Line remained intact across its entire front, and it was anticipated that it would remain quiet with patrols of both sides operating rather freely in a "no man's land." A long north-south ridge, approximately in the center of the area commanded observation of the German lines and was the logical line of defense. The 28th Infantry, strongly reinforced by two companies of the 709th Tank Battalion, and the 8th Recon Troop, along with a Battalion of light artillery, and two companies of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion, set up a series small outposts, connected by foot and motor patrols. The bulk of the Regiment was then centrally located and used as a mobile reserve in the event of enemy attack. Additional vehicles were attached to this force for greater mobility, and the terrain was thoroughly reconnoitered for most suitable positions and routes of movement. Additional Corps artillery was to reinforce the Division front. Wide employment of the roving guns of the Tank Destroyers and if necessary, the tanks, was planned to give the impression of greater artillery strength than actually existed.
By October 3, this plan had been put into effect. Since the Division was essentially without a formed reserve, and because the line was thinly held, it was decided to form a provisional battalion from the administrative units. Organization of this unit was completed on October 8. Eight companies of approximately 200 men comprised the Battalion. Training of this unit, under the command of Lt.Col. Henry B. Kunzig, was continued until October 20, at which time it was believed that the unit was sufficiently trained to repel any possible enemy threat to the Division Headquarters in Wiltz, Luxembourg.
The hilly wooded terrain of Luxembourg afforded the enemy ample opportunity for infiltration, ambush and the more treacherous methods of Nazi warfare. During daylight on October 7, a vehicle bearing Lt.Cols. Frederick J. Bailey and John P. Usher of the 28th Infantry, was traveling well in the rear of the front lines when it was stopped by what appeared to be a United States Army captain and sergeant, standing by a halted American jeep. Pulling alongside,a and hearing the "captain" talking wildly in German, although they wore American combat jackets and helmets, the 28th Infantry officers opened fire and killed the two men. An enemy machine gun and at least one rocket launcher opened fire from the edge of the woods. Realizing that they had driven into an ambush the American officers dismounted and started shooting it out with the Germans. Lt.Col. Usher was killed. Bailey continued to fire back until the Germans were killed or withdrew. The driver of the jeep had disappeared, presumably captured by the enemy.
Photographs of the American clad Germans were taken, so that this violation of international codes of warfare could be substantiated. The division commander ordered that in the future no vehicle would go forward of the Division command post without at least two armed guards or passengers in addition to the driver. During the hours of darkness, no vehicle was to proceed beyond these limits without another vehicle following it.
Also during this period, flying bombs, the Nazi rocket propelled terror weapon, began to fall in the 8th Division area. There were numerous reports of these projectiles flying over front lines positions. Several of them landed within the regimental installations, causing some damage but no loss of life.
Among the high military commanders who visited the 8th Division during this period in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg were General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. General Marshall, who in World War I had served as a officer with the 28th Infantry, discussed immediate problems of the Division with Major General Stroh and his staff. Later he appeared before a group of officers and enlisted men, explaining to them the broad picture of the world battlefronts.
While visiting the Division, General Marshall presented the Silver Star medal with Oak Leaf Cluster to Lt.Col. (then Major) Donald R. Ward, 3rd Battalion Commander of the 28th Infantry, for courageous exploits on the field of battle.
General Eisenhower, accompanied by Lt. Gen. Omar S. Bradley, 12th Army Group Commander, remained with the Division long enough to pin the Silver Star medal on several members of the regiment, join in a brief discussion with General Stroh, and chat informally with a group of the enlisted men.
From time to time during this relatively quiet period, minor changes in the Regimental plan were required. In the broad central sector which was the Regimental front, the 8th Recon Troop and the Recon Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion had been, between them outposting and patrolling an area approximately 13,000 yards wide. This required virtually all personnel to be on continuous duty. Men were beginning to show the strain of repeated contact with the enemy. A plan was worked out to rotate the troops.
Beginning on October 19, one platoon at a time was relieved. To accomplish this, the Reconnaissance Platoon of the 709th Tank Battalion was attached to Combat Team 28, which was responsible for this sector.
On October 20, the 9th Armored Division, recently assigned to the VIII Corps, closed into the area. Although the newly arrived organization was intended primarily as a Corps reserve, its elements, it was believed, could be given valuable battle indoctrination by attachment to front line divisions of the Corps. For this reason the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron was attached to the 28th Infantry.
This made it possible to relieve the 8th Recon Troop, the Recon Company of the 644th Tank Destroyer Battalion and elements of the 709th Tank Battalion. The reserve battalion of the 28th Infantry, no longer needed in the southern sector of the front, was moved to the town of Alsheid and held motorized for possible use to reinforce the 9th Armored Division. This arrangement remained in effect until November 9. At that time, the 89th Recon Squadron reverted to their parent unit, and the original plan for holding the Our River front was put into effect.
In the town Clerf (or Clervaux) in Luxembourg, the 8th Division established a rest camp to provide relaxation for the battle weary front line troops. To this pleasant village, which in prewar years had been a popular tourist center, each combat unit of the division was permitted to send a quota of men every three days. Soldiers were given clean, comfortable rooms in the town hotels, provided with adequate recreational opportunities, and granted freedom to spend their time as they saw fit.
Here far removed from the mud, shelling and strict discipline of the battlefield, men could renew their grip on life. Once again they knew what hot baths and showers felt like. They were served meals in dining rooms, complete with such luxuries as table cloths and plate service. The Division band provided concerts and jam sessions. The American Red Cross girls served coffee and doughnuts. In the friendly village taverns, beer was plentiful.
While the 28th Infantry continued its holding mission on the Luxembourg-German border, a large scale American offensive had developed in the Aachen area. The Siegfried Line had been breached, and the fortress city of Aachen encircled by powerful First Army pincers, reduced to rubble by air and artillery bombardment, and then taken in bitter house to house fighting.
Large scale German counterattacks were beaten back, and American strength rapidly built up for a renewal of the assault upon Germany. Southeast of Aachen, in the V Corps sector, the 28th Infantry Division began a limited objective attack early in November. The plan for the 28th Division was to take and hold the towns of Vossenack and Schmidt to the east, and to uncover the enemy defenses near Hurtgen in preparation for a general attack in this sector by the VII Corps.
By November 3, both Vossenack and Schmidt had been taken, and a line of departure for the attack upon Hurtgen secured. So difficult was the terrain, however, that only foot troops could get through to Schmidt. There was no road between the two towns over which armor and anti-tank guns could move.
The enemy reacted promptly and violently, throwing one panzer and two infantry divisions into the counter drive to retake the towns he had lost. Heavy artillery shelled the 28th Division positions ceaselessly. Tanks, instead of overrunning the infantry, who were well dug in, stopped short of the foxholes and fired their guns point blank and the doughboys.
Still unable to get armor through to the foot troops, the 28th Division was forced to withdraw from Schmidt on November 7th. At one time the Germans also recaptured half of Vossenack, but here they were driven back.
Casualties had crippled the 28th Division, and it was decided that the unit should be withdrawn. The 8th Division was transferred to V Corps, and ordered to relieve the 28th. The latter division took the place of the 8th, as a member of the VIII Corps along the Our River front in Luxembourg.
Nest Section: 6 November 1944 through January 1945 - The Hurtgen Forest
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This history of the 28th Infantry comes from the official Regt. history. It was developed for the use of 8th Division Veterans and their families to help understand the unit's role in WW2. This edited and updated version is copyright 2010 by Friends of the 8th Division It may not be reproduced without permission.