The Remembrances of:
Richard Sasin ~ Don Shanower ~ John W. Slabinski
Lt Richard Sasin
4th Platoon C Co
1st Bn 290th Inf Regt
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
AN INTRODUCTION TO COMBAT
Company C, 290th Inf. arrived in the town of Erezee, Belgium on the evening of 23 December, having spend the previous day and night in an approach march. On 24 December at approximately 1330 hours, we boarded half tracks furnished by the 3rd Armored Division and were transported to the town of Manhay. At Manhay the column came under enemy artillery fire. We left the half tracks and proceeded on foot south on route N-15 to Belle Haie, a distance of about three miles. We marched through fields and woods on the east side of the highway. At Belle haie, Major Brewster had set up a roadblock consisting of six tanks from H Co. 32AR, 3rd Armored Division protected by paratroopers from A Co. 509th Parachute Battalion. The tanks were situated on both sides of N-15 and the paratroops were dug in at the edge of the woods on either side of the road. Captain Harold T. (Knobby) Walsh; commanding C Co., reported to Brewster (Knobby states he found Brewster holed up in a tank) to get his orders. Knobby then called his officers together and gave us the attack plan. The first platoon (2nd Lt. Mike Eberle) and the machine gun section of the weapons platoon (2nd Lt. Dick Sasin) would attack into the woods on the west side of the road; the second platoon (2nd Lt. Joe Colcord) would attack on the east side of the road and the third platoon (1st Lt. Ben Parks) would be in support. In the meantime I had placed the 60 mm mortars in position in a field on the west side of the road.
The attack jumped off about 1530 hours. The first platoon made great progress, killing a number of dug-in infantry and wiping out several machine gun nests. I had positioned two machine guns along highway N-15 to prevent any enemy from crossing the road and hitting our left flank. The first platoon continued for about 100 yards until they reached a dirt road or a firebreak. At this point, the Germans brought up a tank and pinned us down with machine gun fire. The 2nd platoon attacked at the same time as the first, but as soon as they entered the woods, they were pinned down. Several of the platoon were wounded, including Lt. Colcord. When Knobby saw what happened to the 2nd platoon he ordered the 3rd platoon to attack around the left flank of the 2nd platoon. Initially the 3rd met no resistance and they advanced a short way into the woods. Suddenly they were met by intense fire from a well camouflaged and dug-in enemy. A number of men were killed, including Lt. Parks. Most of the platoon were either killed, wounded or captured. Casualties in the other three platoons were light. When Knobby saw what had happened to the 2nd and 3rd platoon he ordered the 1st platoon to disengage and return from the woods. I have no idea what Brewster's orders were, but he ordered us to attack while his tanks and the paratroopers of A Co. 509th Pcht Bn just sat there and watched as we attacked troops of the 2nd SS Panzer Division -- one of Hitler's best. It was about 1600 to 1615 hours when we pulled back from the woods and dug in at the edge of the woods. I estimate the time because it was just starting to get dark. I asked Knobby for permission to fire a few mortar rounds at the crossroads, but since he had heard nothing from the third platoon he denied my request.
By this time it was getting dark. Brewster was in contwt by radio with Col. Richardson, his superior. The only orders he could get was to remain in place and man the roadblock. We sat in place at Belle Haie for the rest of the evening, in relative quiet with only an occasional German motorcycle rider
coming north on the N-15 through our lines. Needless to say none made it through. We sat and waited, expecting an attack at any moment. Sometime after midnight, Brewster finally got orders to pull back. About 2100 hours, the Germans had attacked up the Odeigne road to N-15 North of Belle Haie and continued on to Manhay and Malempre. The Germans had a field day in Manhay, where many 3rd and 7th Armored tanks were destroyed. Brewster was told "try to get out by going North and East, since the place you came from (Manhay) was in enemy hands". The tanks were started and warmed up on the road. We waited for what seemed to be an eternity, expecting the Krauts to attack at any time, but fortunately they chose not to. Finally we moved out with A Co. 509th and the tanks in the von with C Co. as the rear guard. I was at the very rear of the column. Since C Co. had no maps we had to put our trust in Brewster. The column proceeded for about 30 minutes to an hour -- I had no concept of time -- when suddenly we heard shots from the front of the column. We scattered off the road and hit the dirt ready to fire. The firing stopped and all was quiet for quite some time. Finally Knobby called Mike and me and told us that the column had run into a small village which was occupied by the enemy. Later I learned that this village was Malempre. Apparently the first and last tanks has been disabled by panzerfausts and according to Brewster, the remaining tanks could not be moved. He, therefore, decided to destroy his remaining tanks and all would move out on foot. The tankers of H Co., A Co. 509th and C Co. 290th then took off in separate directions. I estimate that the time was now about 0300 hours. C Co. Took off through the woods over ground covered by snow, heading toward the flashes of our artillery. As dawn began to break we came to a clearing which sloped upward to a road on which we noticed a truck moving along. Knobby asked for a volunteer to check if we had reached friendly troops. Sgt. Spremulli volunteered and soon returned with the news that we had met with troops of the 82nd Airborne, 504th PIR just west of Bra. The rest of that day 25 December 1944 is mostly a blur to me. I believe that we tried to scrounge for food because we left Erezee the previous day without our packs and thus with no rations. We were told to leave everything at Erezee except our arms and ammunition. I am sure that we also were very tired and tried to get a little rest. Knobby tried to get transportation to take us back to Erezee, but was unsuccessful until late in the afternoon. Sometime about 1600 hours we boarded trucks, furnished I guess by the 82nd AB. The 75th and 3rd Armored had been assigned to 7th Corps (Gen. Collins) whose eastern boundary on N-15 tied in with XV111th Airborne Corps (Gen. Ridgeway). The trucks were to take us only to the 7th Armored Division boundary. Shortly after dark we arrived in Webromont where we were ordered off the trucks. We spent the night in Webromont because Knobby was unable to get transportation to Erezee until the next morning. It is also to be noted that the most direct route to Erezee lay through Manhay and Grandmenil, both of which were in German hands at that time. We arrived in Erezee at about 1000 hours 26 December on trucks presumably furnished by the 75th Division.
In retrospect, many questions and comments may be in order to try to understand what happened before, during and after our attack. The 1st Bn 290th Inf. had been attached to the 3rd Armored Division. All orders and directives came directly from that source. I have no idea what Brewster's orders were. Was he ordered to maintain a road block at Belle Haie? If so, why didn't he place C Co. in a defensive position to reinforce the road block and help to protect his tanks? Were his orders to attack when he was reinforced by C Co.? If @o, why did he use only a portion of his troops to attack? If his orders were to attack, he should have had C Co. attack on one side of N-15 and A Co. 509th attack on the other, both being supported by tanks. Unfortunately C Co. attacked alone
with no support from with the tanks or A Co. Both the 3rd Armored and the 75th Divisions were attached to the 7th Corps but most of the time on 24 December were in the XV111th Airborne Corps area. In addition, General Montgomery had taken command of all troops in the northern sector of the Bulge and in order to "tidy up the lines" he had ordered all troops to withdraw to an area north of Manhay. This withdrawal was to take place on 24 December and in fact units of the 82nd AB had left Malempre to new positions on the line north of Manhay through Bra over to Trois Ponts. Why then were we sent to reinforce brewster when everyone else was pulling back? Apparently the 3rd Armored or Specifically Co. Richardson never got the orders to withdraw. Our orders to withdraw came after midnight and after Manhay had been captured. It seems that someone goofed rather badly and it left us three miles behind the German lines.
An interesting sidelight is the fact that the first American troops to carry out a parachute attack belong to the 509th. Elements of that battalion were used in the attack on North Africa in November 1942.
Ray Fary, a member of C Battery, 80th AA, 82nd Airborne, was one of the first to greet us Christmas morning. Ray had been a member of the 75th Inf Division (290th Inf. I believe) and had joined the 82nd AB as a replacement. Ray assured me that C Co. came out of the woods alone and that neither Brewster nor the paratrooper were with us.
Sasin, Richard; Age 19, Height 5'8", Weight 150 lbs. Enlisted Reserve Corps Advanced ROTC Program at Drexel University, October 1942. Called to active duty April 12, 1943. Basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, April to July 1943. ASTP Program at Drexel University July to December 1943. Officer candidate at Fort Benning, Georgia, January to May 1944. Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry May 9, 1944. Assigned to Co. C 290th Infantry. Joined Co. C on May 20, 1944. Helped to train ASTP and former Air Force Cadets in infantry tactics and weapons. On October 22 sailed on USS Brazil to Swansea, Wales. The time from November 1 to December 10 was spent in Porthcawl, Wales training and conditioning the platoon. On December II, arrived in Lz Havre and went to Yvetot, France. Left Yvetot by train on December 17 and arrived at Tongres, Belgium on December 18. Traveled by truck and by foot to Erezee, Belgium. Close combat from December 1944 to January 24, 1945. Hospitalized in Liege, Belgium until February 15 with acute bronchitis and rejoined Co. C near Venlo, Holland on February 22. 1 was informed that my promotion to 1st Lt. had come through and I became the company commander. The Co. held a defensive position on the Maas River, then participated in the attack to the Rhine. Held a defensive position on the Rhine in the vicinity of Wesel where we were the northernmost American troops. I had to coordinate with elements of the British Army on our left flank. We crossed the Rhine River on March 24 and participated in the battle of the Ruhr Pocket until April 14 when we captured the towns of Witten and Wetter on the Ruhr River. C Co. was on occupation duty in Iserlohn, Germany until July when we were relieved by the British. The Co. then went by rail to Camp Cleveland near Rheims, France. Left the Division October 10, 1945. Served at Camp Pittsburgh and Camp New York near Mourmelon Le Grande, France and in February was posted to Camp Pall Mall in Le Havre, France. Returned home on August 15 and was discharged from active duty on October 15, 1946 with the rank of Captain.
Awards: Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, European-African-Middle East Campaign with three battle stars, American Defense Ribbon, World War 11 Victory Medal and Army of Occupation Ribbon.
4th Squad, 2d Section, 2d Platoon
D Co. 1st Bn
290th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
23 24 25 26 Dec 44
The 23rd of December sticks in my mind as a day of travel on 4 by 4's and jeep and trailer moving to a designated point. As a lowly squad leader, I didn't always know what, where, why and how of a situation. As I recall, I was much more concerned about one ammo bearer who was picked for highway directions and did not return when I thought he should be back to the outfit.
On the afternoon of the 24th, I remember leaving a meeting of officers and non-coms in a building located in a small village where our assignments were given out. I'm sorry I don't remember the name of the village. My section was assigned to C Co of the 290th. I think it was to be with the 1st and 2nd platoons going up to relieve paratroopers who were trapped by the Germans. I believe it was a platoon from the 509th. By the time we got on the road to our objective, it was late in the afternoon. We must have hiked a mile or so when we found ourselves in a heavily wooded area. We were given a field of fire and we dug in. We were located near a clearing; on our right a road angled right from our position. We received some shelling sporadically, sometimes heavy and we watched as German dispatch motorcycles and armored vehicles raced down the road to cut us off. Later another meeting was held to determine what we were going to do. A password was given out (last edition), and it was decided that we would break out of the encirclement. The men of the 509th would act as advance and secure our flanks as we started down the road. We received some response from the Germans. We walked in the dark not knowing where we were and saw and heard sounds of the Panzer pool of tanks, we skirted a village because of antitank firing and headed for the woods. We walked most of the night and when daylight appeared we hid in the woods to escape detection, moving on late that day. Somehow we managed to find friendly lines and returned to our outfits. That whole period of time is very hazy for me. I guess I never really knew what the hell was going on at anytime. To this day, I don't really know how many days we were wandering around lost in the woods until we came to a road and saw that GI trucks were using it. So we got out of the woods and walked to the rear.
S/Sgt John W. Slabinski
3rd Squad 2nd Section
3d Platoon D Co
1st Bn 290th Inf Regt.
75th Infantry Division
Slabinski, John W., age 20, height 6', weight 165 lbs. Born in Northampton, NIA. 1940 high school graduate. Volunteered in March 1943. Serial #31287482. Entrained from Fort Devens, NIA to Fort Leonard Wood, MO where the 75th was formed. From day one, was assigned as a Squad Leader in the Third Platoon, D Company, Ist Battalion, 290th Regiment. Completed basic training. Maneuvers in Louisiana and Texas in February and March of 1944. Then to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. Rank of Staff Sergeant in the 81MM Mortar Platoon. On to Camp Shanks, over to Wales, then to France.
From bivouac moved through Liege to plug gaps in the Bulge. Our Mortar Section along with a Machine Gun Section was assigned to a Rifle Company and settled in a small town as a defensive unit on December 23. The tank that led us into town left us the following day and was blown up a short distance down the road. No survivors.
Our entire unit was surrounded on Christmas day. During the night, two paratroopers came and led us back to our line to regroup. Spent the next three to four weeks pushing the Germans back. Spent three days in a rest area. Chance to shower and get clean clothes.
Then down to Colmar. February I received severe wounds from an anti-personnel mine. Hospitalized in Aix, France for a few weeks. Then by hospital train to Paris. During trip, saw Madelaine Carroll walk through the hospital train.
Spent three days in the Paris hospital for physical therapy. Then a plan ride from Paris to the Azores, Bermuda, Mitchell Field, N.Y., and Lovell Hospital, Fort Devens, MA on March 18, 1945.
Honorably discharged October 2, 1945 with 100% disability.
Received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct, American Campaign, European African Middle Eastern Campaign with two Bronze Stars, World War II, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Infantry Badge - Rifle/SIMM Mortar.
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