We Fight and Die Here No. 4 – The Crucial Day

Derril McCollough Daniel had commanded one or another of the 26th Infantry’s battalions since the 1st Division’s assault landing in North Africa in 1942 and the 2d Battalion since the landing in Sicily in 1943. At thirty-nine, he was one of the senior battalion commanders in a division that had long taken pride in a nickname derived from its shoulder patch, the “Big Red One.” Born in South Carolina, Daniel obtained his commission through ROTC at Clemson, the state’s agricultural and mechanical college, and then pursued advanced degrees, including a Ph.D. in entomology. By the time he entered the army as a reserve officer in 1940, he was a recognized authority on the biological control of insect pests.

Digging in on the 17th and 18th and facing the attacks which started the next day, Colonel Daniel’s men had a taste of what was to come on the 21st: the day which would prove decisive. Engineers had placed antitank mines on the road into town, and Daniel had received an extra company of infantry and another ten 57mm guns as reinforcements overnight. On the morning of the 21st, German artillery fired at Dom. Bütgenbach for three hours, stopping at dawn as the German attack pushed on the little town.

As two battalions of SS-Panzergrenadiers approached under covering fire from at least thirty tanks and tank destroyers, each battalion taking one of the two roads leading into Dom. Bütgenbach, Daniel called on his supporting artillery to place “a ring of steel” in front of his position. A total of twelve battalions responded: all battalions of the 1st and 2d Divisions; a battalion of the 99th Division (the only battalion of that division within range); and three corps battalions, plus a battalion of 4.2-inch chemical mortars. Through the entire morning, German soldiers, displaying incredible courage (the Americans saw it as fanatical), tried to break through that ring of steel, but not a man made it. They died in droves.

The German tanks had more success, pushing southwest around Daniel’s battalion. Three 57mm guns faced them; they accounted for two tanks between them as the tanks emerged from the fog, before succumbing to return fire. The heroic Corporal Warner was nearby, and he bagged another, but as it caught fire, a burst of machine gun fire from the turret cut him down. That left the western flank undefended, and the German tanks were free to maraud along the line of foxholes. Two Shermans and a tank destroyer took out nine of the German tanks (the TD scoring seven on its own), but the Shermans took hits themselves, and three remaining German tanks reached cover and began to pour fire into Daniel’s command post at the manor house.

Daniel called for reinforcements, and the regimental commander sent four M36 tank destroyers. They reached protected positions from which they could fire on the barn behind which the German tanks hid. Two of the German tanks made a run for it, and the tank destroyers made quick work of them. The third tank stayed where it was. Eventually, mortar fire forced it out into the open, but early evening mist concealed it on its run back to the German lines.

As night arrived, the Germans called off the attack for the day. They left almost 800 dead, and about 50 of their tanks and tank destroyers littered the field. The Americans lost 250 men, four tanks and tank destroyers, and five 57mm guns.

Impressed by the weight of the attack, Colonel Daniel briefly contemplated falling back to high ground closer to Bütgenbach, for his position constituted a right-angle corner in the line, joining the positions of his regiment’s 3d Battalion and those of the 2d and 99th Divisions, facing east, with those of the rest of the 1st Division, facing south. Yet when [a] reserve company from the 18th Infantry arrived, Daniel reconsidered. It was he who had coined the motto, “We stand and die here,” and his men had fought by it, many of them dying in the process. There was to be no falling back.

The 21st was the turning point in the real battle. As the clock turns from the 20th to the 21st, I feel like things might be turning around for me, but dawn quickly disabuses me of that idea.

Something like a battalion and a half has made its way through the woods, and it’s heavily mechanized and concentrated on the weak left flank of 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment. Task Force Davisson, coming off of enough hours of sleep to return them to combat effectiveness, rushes to fill in; that leaves some possible enemy forces un-bottled south of Oberweywertz, but between the tanks and armored cars southeast of Bütgenbach and the enemy pushing east of E Company, 16th Infantry, Davisson’s needed closer to the action.

Between bazookas and 57mm guns, and with some support from Task Force Davisson, the German tanks hassling Bütgenbach end up wiped out, and Task Force Davisson’s presence on 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry’s flank helps to contain the attack. You’ll notice a battalion of German assault guns which managed to get around the corner toward Dom. Bütgenbach; the little task force led by B Company of the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, which originally numbered thirty vehicles, is down to fifteen or so. That still outnumbers the German company sufficiently for me to order an attack.

In the afternoon, two more battalions arrive—the rest of the 18th Infantry Regiment. 1st Battalion takes up positions between Oberweywertz and 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, while the 18th Infantry’s 2nd Battalion heads toward Bütgenbach to take up positions easy of the town, extend 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry’s line up to the reservoir, and hopefully cut off that avenue of entry for the Germans. 18th Infantry’s headquarters elements—an anti-tank gun company and an anti-aircraft gun company—head for the road junction south of the two 155mm artillery battalions. They’ll provide security there.

On the outskirts of Waimes, a reinforced company of M36 tank destroyers chase a German armored company which had interrupted a supply delivery earlier in the day.

2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry has pushed west of Bütgenbach and trying to push the Germans back enough to set up a defensive line. 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry faces heavier attacks than it’s seen to date. (It’s had quite a bit of attrition since the start of the scenario, but that’s mostly from German artillery fire.) Once 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry gets into place, I’m going to order 3rd Battalion, 26th Infantry to fall back a little bit. It’s becoming a bit of a bulge in the lines, which is bad.

In the center, Task Force Davisson prepares to move up to Dom. Bütgenbach, where several days of constant fighting have whittled down 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry significantly.

In the west, a company of German tank destroyers heads along the road toward Oberweywertz. As the night rolls onward, the anti-tank gun company and the headquarters elements holding that town will engage it and destroy its remaining eight vehicles.

This entry was posted in We Fight and Die Here, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply