Saga of a Lost Battalion, Trapped 5 Days Without Food
By Dan Regan
With the U.S. Seventh Army east of Bruyeres – The story of a “lost battalion” – more than 200 men isolated for seven days, five of them without food …was released today by censors.
The battalion, part of an infantry division with the U.S. Seventh Army in the Vosges Mountains, found itself surrounded and isolated at Foert Domaniale de Champ, seven miles southeast of Saint-Die.
At first it appeared a simple matter to move up and relieve the men, but the days dragged by, and German resistance, particularly shelling, stiffened. After seven days, the battalion was relieved through the efforts of nearly the entire division.
The Germans had cut off the battalion CP and the only officers left were five lieutenants. The CO of “A” Company was in charge. He was 1/Lt. Martin J. Higgins, of Jersey City, N..J. He and 1/Sgt. William Bandorick, of Scranton, PA, kept a log of the seven days.
Interviewed immediately after the ordeal, Lt. Higgins recounted the battalion's experiences:
“When we got on the upper slope of the hill we expected support. The first night there was shell fire, so we dug in. Jerry seemed disorganized. It never occurred to us we'd be cut off for long. We had outposts in front of every platoon with 300-degree protection. Jerry attacked a couple of times and we managed to knock out a couple of his machine guns.”
As hamburgers sizzled and a Red Cross Clubmobile pulled up with fresh doughnuts, Lt. Higgins got into the subject of chow. “We were damned hungry by the fifth day,” he said.
The only communication with the outside was a radio the Field Artillery forward observer had with him when they were surrounded. The batteries were expected to last two days, but 1/Lt. Erwin H. Blonder, of Cleveland, OH nursed the radio so they lasted seven days.
Higgins had called for food and bandages to be dropped by parachute. P47's from the U. S.l 12 th Tactical Air Command attempted to drop them but bad weather delayed their mission. In desperation, Lt. Higgins requested that artillery register in on them with shells packed with food. As he put it, “Those artillery shells were regular 105s loaded with D rations. If they hit you they'd kill you. But we decided to take a chance. We figured, if you don't get hit – you eat. We'd had no food for five days and were desperate. The only water we had was from a swamp. We soon ran out of purification tablets and had to boil the water.
“Late in the fifth day, we were beginning to lose hope. Shells started registering right on the target and 27 Thunderbolts started dropping food. It was like something you see in the movies,” Higgins said. “Shells falling with food, planes zooming and dropping parachutes and tanks loaded with food and supplies – it was really something. Most of the men cried like kids – you just can't put it into words – how we felt, I mean.
“I ordered all the food brought to one point for a breakdown and equal distribution.” Higgins continued, “and not one man stopped to eat anything. They brought the food, piled it up, and looked at it. It was the strongest discipline I ever saw.
Fought Way to Food
Some of the men had to shoot their way to the rations, as they landed near the Jerries, who tried to grab them first. We had the same sort of trouble near the water hole. Jerry placed snipers there.”
Asked about the tactical situation, Lt. Higgins said wounded litter cases prevented any maneuvering. The battalion took one prisoner on the first day and three on the sixth. “We had to bury three of our men.” Higgins said. “We held simple services.”
A reconnaissance patrol of 48 men was ambushed and only five man got back.
“The sixth day,” Lt. Higgins added, “the Jerries attacked us all day with small arms, machine guns and mortars. We thought we were done for. The last message I sent out to the colonel was: “Not trying to beg off, but situation here gets worst.” “The next day, the seventh at about four in the afternoon, the first man of the rescuing forces contacted us. The officers agreed to buy a bottle of whisky for the first man to reach us.”
Pvt. Myron W. Dabbert, of Chicago, found some mushrooms and boiled them in water to make soup. “The big redtopped ones are the best,” he said.
|Article from Stars & Stripes Newspaper – November 6, 1944|