WALDHAMBACH

Grave of the Unknowns - Lorraine American Cemetery

You cannot choose your battlefield, God does that for you; But you can plant a standard where a standard never flew - Stephen Crane, "The Colors"

December in France can be cold and miserable, especially if you are an infantry soldier in 1944. It can be especially miserable if you are fighting a determined enemy with his back to the wall. So it was for the men of the 324th Infantry Regiment. Fate and circumstances had brought these men together, men from all across the United States and from all walks of life. Some would return, others would not. It would be the worst of sins to forget the sacrifices these brave men made.

Purple Heart Ribbon

On December 2, 1944 the 324th Regiment had a combat strength of approximately 2275 men or about 134 men to a company. The regiment had suffered considerable losses during the previous 2 months. Another attack was being planned, this time north towards a small village named Waldhambach, in the normally beautiful Alsace-Lorraine region of France. The region is seperated from Germany on the east by the Rhine River. The Vosges Mountains also loom off to the east. It was hoped that after capturing Waldhambach, the regiment could continue north with the objective of breaching the formidable Maginot Line.

Purple Heart Ribbon

The 3rd battalion was given the mission of holding a defensive line against potential German armor attack. Probing patrols were dispatched to recon for enemy troop concentrations and strength. Information developed from POW interrogations revealed that the regiment was opposing the 7th Company of the 901 German Lehr Regiment of the battle hardened 130th Panzer Lehr Division which held Waldhambach and had been one of Germany's strongest units in the west at the time of the Allied landings at Normandy. The 7th company consisted of only 80 men but were supported by 4 German Mark IV tanks as well as another 4 Panthers. Not known at the time, the second company of the 901 Panzer Grenadier Regiment of the 130th Division as well as elements of the 119th Panzer Grenadier regiment were being held in reserve. The total German force in and around Waldhambach totaled 400 men, 8 tanks and 25 armored cars.

Purple Heart Ribbon

At 1100 hours December 2nd the 1st and 2nd battalions were ordered to attack and seize Waldhambach. The assault was planned for 1400 hours and was to be preceeded by and air assault at 1300 hours. A twenty minute artillery barrage was to begin twenty minutes prior to the attack. The attack was executed on time with little initial resistence from the Germans. By 1500 hours both battalions were engaged with the enemy at which time the 3rd battalion was moved into a forward assembly area. Resistance became much stronger and by 1640 hours both battalions were stalled. The attack was intensified with the hope that Waldhambach could be taken by nightfall. By the end of the day the 1st battalion was close to Waldhambach but was forced to hold up it's advance due to road and bridge damage in it's area. During the night the 2nd battalion gained possession of the southern end of the town.

Purple Heart Ribbon

In the early morning hours of December 3rd the Germans counter-attacked the 2nd battalion with one tank supported by infantry. Refusing to give up ground the 324th men held off the Germans who finally withdrew. Later in the morning the occupation of Waldhambach by the 2nd battalion was complete. The third battalion, which had been in reserve, was ordered to attack with the objective of seizing the Bois le Grunewald, a wooded area north of Waldhambach. The 3rd battalion reached the southern edge of the woods by 1300 hours but was stalled by heavy resistance. Shortly thereafter the Germans again counter-attacked in an attempt to drive the 3rd battalion from the woods. Some positions of Company A, 1st batallion, were over-run by German infantry. Some elements of Company A found themselves engaged in hand-to-hand combat with determined German attackers. Captain Peter Bardini, A Company Commander found himself in close combat with German infantry penetrating his flank. Captain Bardini was charged by a German Ober-Lieutenent who he managed to shoot three times with his carbine. The carbine was ripped from Captain Bardini's hands by the German who subsequently died from his wounds. S/Sgt. Clifford Michael and Pfc Howard Elliott of Company C engaged enemy armor, firing their rockets point blank at a large hulking tank. Both were cut down by enemy fire and seriously wounded. S/Sgt. Michael was killed, but Pfc Elliott survived. Close by, Sgt. Cosmo Testa, Co. D, 1st batallion had his men dug in and manning their machine guns. Sgt. Testa was in position with Pvt. Dick Stone. Directly to their left was another machinegun manned by Pfc. Walter Gill. Pvt. William Blaise was positioned in a foxhole to Pfc Gill's left manning a bazooka. Both machinegun positions were bringing down a hail of fire on the German infantry. They couldn't however stop the tanks. Even while being over-run by the enemy tanks they continued their fire on the enemy. As the tanks continued to approach Pvt. Blaise raised his bazooka in an attempt to knock out one of the German tanks, but was immediately killed by machinegun fire from the tanks. Sgt. Testa would earn the Silver Star for bravery under fire. Brave men like these were taking their toll on the Germans who finally wavered in their counter-attack and fell back. The battle for Waldhambach and the woods beyond had been a costly action for the 324th. At the end of the day, 12 brave men lay dead and 67 others were wounded. This was not the end by any stretch of the imagination. The 324th would spend another 5 long months fighting the Germans who were showing no signs of giving up. The old men and boys that the German Army were reportedly fielding must have been somewhere else on December 3, 1944.

WALDHAMBACH TODAY

WW2 Victory Medal

" Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them" - FDR

 

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