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Operation Bettembourg

Soldier standing in a city street

From the collection of Irving Mayer.

On the 14th of September at 0900 news came to 23rd Hq. that an operation was being planned. From 12th Army Group at Versailles, it was learned that XX Corps, consisting of the 5th Infantry, 90th Infantry, and 7th Armored Divisions, operating in the vicinity of Metz, desired phantom armor. The outfit was alerted at 1210 while Colonel Reeder traveled 175 miles to the XX Corps C. P. Here it was learned that a simulated force of the 6th Armored Division Hq, CCA and CCR, was to be simulated at once, south of the city of Luxembourg.

The 406th crossed the IP in St. Germain at 1650 and continued riding well into the night until, at 2345, after a distance of 118 miles had been traversed, a bivouac was established in a woods near Châlons-sur-Marne, France.

The march was resumed at 0850, the morning of 15 September. Many World War I sites were passed, including the city of Verdun, and finally the French-Luxembourg border was crossed. With the appearance of Germanic looking signs, an uncertainty developed among the men regarding the friendliness of the people of this small Duchy to the Allied cause. Most doubts, however, were dispelled when the convoy passed through the city of Esch, not far from the French border. The outfit had received ovations before. The people of Normandy, and more especially, those of Brittany, had magnanimously offered cider and other drinks of thanks, and had joyously cheered their American liberators. But none of these could compare in spontaneity, enthusiasm, or extent with the sincere, vociferous crowds of Esch, who lined the streets, hoarsely voicing their approval and gratitude to their gallant Blarney emancipators. Other Americans had probably been through there a day or two before (our forces had but recently entered the country) but none could have been tendered a heartier welcome.

The operation site north of Bettembourg was reached about 1600. Company headquarters and the first platoon stayed with the Division CP and bivouaced one mile north of Abweiler. From here bumpers were marked, shoulders were patched, MP’s were posted, and the men and officers were briefed on the situation.

The Germans were in the process of being driven east of the Moselle River. XX Corps had executed an unsuccessful attack to secure Metz. Pressure was being exerted on their spearhead to the south of the city, and on the 43rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron which was operating to the north of their left flank division (the 90th Inf. Div.). 23rd Hq. was immediately behind the 43rd’s cavalry screen. German patrol activity was heavy and aggressive.

The immediate objective was to relieve the pressure on the XX Corps bridgehead by preventing the enemy from reinforcing in the Metz sector, and to draw enemy troops away from that area. It was also a move to reinforce the 43rd Cavalry.

The only MP post to go out that night was No. 2 (see map). T/5 Haney was in charge, with Pvts Rupe and Greenberg as the other two traffic cops. It was a busy spot, and many seemingly friendly natives were soon congregating there. The men were instructed to tell the people that they were the advance party of the 6th Armored Div. which was moving in that night. They had come all the way from Lorient and were reorganizing here before driving across the Moselle.

Shortly after midnight the Heater unit noisily played into the area. Just as they were hitting the crossroads at post 2, a column of real tanks came up from the other direction. It was soon established that this was a platoon of light tanks which the 43rd Rcn. of the 3rd Cav. was lending to Blarney for the operation. The tankmen and their lieutenant had been briefed, but nevertheless were under the impression that the MP’s were the real thing. Major Williams of Heater was himself a little confused on this score.

Two of these real tanks, which had all been marked with 6th Arm’d insignia, pulled over to the side of the road to simulate a breakdown. The following morning an even greater amount of civilians than on the previous night, crowded around the post. They showed a good deal of curiosity, and were told all they wanted to know about the 6th Arm’d by the obliging MP’s. Before long the “trouble” in the two tanks was fixed and the cavalry boys left. These tankmen, incidentally, had been told they were going on a suicide mission, and had the highest respect for the men of 23rd Hq. Sp. Tr. Whom they considered to be exceptionally brave men.

The rest of the MP posts were put out that morning. Then Lt. Daley, with Sgt. Anderson and Pvt. Greenberg (as interpreter) took a jeep into the city of Esch. They stopped in the busiest sections of town, and while the populace climbed all over them, they inquired about a mythical lost 6th Arm’d vehicle said to be missing from the tank convoy which had come in the previous night. The people had heard the convoy pass, but of course, had not seen the lost vehicle. Information was also asked about the condition of the bridge over the Moselle at Remich. The same procedure was then followed in the capitol city of Luxembourg. There can be little doubt that if enemy ground agents were present in either of these cities, the presence of the 6th Arm’d in that area must have become known to them.

The experiences on the various posts followed the same general pattern. The people all seemed very friendly and continually congregated around the posts. This, plus the fact that there wasn’t enough traffic on the posts to keep an MP busy, spoiled the authenticity of the picture in the eyes of some of the staff. The local populace, however, seemed to accept them without reservation. On the post of Cpl. Creech, Pvt. Weinstein, and Pvt. Mayer in the town of Bettembourg, for example, civilials were noted to be taking bumper markings down in an notebook. Many civilians asked if the 6th Arm’d were in the First or Third U.S. Army, and expressed pleasant surprise that Third Army troops were that far north. On the post manned by T/5 Brennan, Pvt. Palermo, and Pvt. Powers in the town of Leudelange, a woman teacher who could speak fluent English, befriended the MP’s. She subsequently wrote an article (in English) in the Luxembourg newspaper about the American MP’s near her home.

American troops were likewise fooled about the MP’s identity. Corps MP’s, riding past post 2, asked Cpl. Campbell, “Where is your TCP?” and were given a snappy answer so that not the slightest suspicion entered their minds. A tank of the 5th Arm’d Div. was stationed at post 5 where Sgt. Lutier, T/5 Taylor, and Pvt. Donnelly buffaloed them for the duration of the problem. It was on this post too, that civilians mentioned they had heard tank convoys coming in, an experience repeated on almost every post.

One of the criticisms against the special effects was that they didn’t capture the true esprit de corps of an armored division. EM’s of mechanized units, it was said, maintained a soldierly appearance at all times. They were well disciplined and treated their officers with a high degree of esteem and courtesy. The men on post 5 learned the truth of this first hand from the 5th Arm’d men on guard there. One of these soldiers was maintaining close international relations with a female representative of the vicinity in an empty house near the post. A few officers stopped by to inspect the premises and happened on this sterling representative of proper GI conduct while he was the climax of his goodwill talks with the fair Luxembourg damsel. Notwithstanding the inconvenience, our 5th Arm’d man jumped up to a stiff attention. A few unfastened buttons were the only flaw in his otherwise ideal soldierly appearance, which prompted the officer to give him a speedy “carry on.” After this conclusive evidence of the superior enforcement of military courtesy by armored personnel, the picture portrayed by the 406 MP’s improved immeasurably in authenticity.

Meanwhile, the third platoon was representing the 25 Arm’d Eng. Of CCA. It was the duty of this command to simulate a concentration in a covered bivouac and to show indications of moving to the east towards Remich. On 16 September twelve dummies were erected and remained in position until nightfall. It was the duty of the third platoon to secure the area and see that no civilians got too close to the items. In spite of all precautions, however, some degree of compromise was effected. Four EM’s from the 603rd Eng. Cam. Bn. were seen carrying a rubber tank through the CCA bivouac area by T/5 Poris, who was on an outpost for the division CP area. A civilian happened to be riding by in a buggy at the time, and Poris noticed and reported his interest in the phenomenon. Colonel Reeder ordered an investigation of the matter.

One third of the command of CCA and CCR (to which the second platoon was attached) was sent each day into nearby towns as special effects. Thus the men of the second and third platoons had, as one of their prime assignments, the mission of simulating men on pass detail; a job for which, it cannot be gainsaid, they were admirably fit.

Traffic on the roads, one of the most important factors in lending authenticity to the presence of a large body of troops, was carefully regulated. The 406th vehicles represented the various companies of the 25 Arm’d Eng. Central point in the traffic scheme was the water point, maintained by T/5 Doolittle and Pvt. Dyer. This was located adjacent to post 2, in full view of the town of Bettembourg. On the first day only enough water for the actual troops present was drawn. Thereafter, the number of trips was increased threefold to simulate traffic for 8,000 troops. Bumper markings were changed after each trip, and distinctive markings on the trucks were removed. Every step was taken to make the activity as convincing as possible. Captain Rebh routed the engineer heavy equipment (bulldozers and air compressors) on the MSR and through Bettembourg in a move not only to add to the veracity of the complete picture byattracting attention to this noticeable equipment, but also, to show the presence of the engineers in the vicinity who might be contemplating a crossing of the Moselle.

After the first three days 23d Hq was given an addition objective. The German 36th Division had moved in to the right of the German 19th at Wormeldange near Remich. Their patrol activity increased and became more aggressive. It was believed these reinforcements in the vicinity of Remich came as a result of enemy intelligence reports to the effect that the 6th Arm’d Div. was concentrating in the Bettembourg area for an attack on Remich. At any rate, XX Corps decided it could not permit 23d Hq to withdraw after the originally scheduled 60 hour period had elapsed. It would have left their flank critically exposed. Besides the 43rd Cavalry Squadron was already taking a beating, and badly needed what little reinforcement the phantom armor could lend.

As a result it was necessary to introduce new tactics. Special effects were broadened to include convoys to the city of Luxembourg to take showers at the public bath. Men with more than one shelter half were ordered to pitch tents in two areas. At night, blackout regulations were intentionally broken. The woods were illuminated by camp fires, flashlights and other evidences of large numbers of troops.

It was inconceivable that an armored division could remain long in an area without sending out patrols to establish direct contact with the enemy. The danger of compromise, of course, made it impossible to send actual patrols to the front lines. If German ground agents could be led to believe that such patrols were going out, however, it would serve as a satisfactory alternative. With this purpose in mind, Captain Rebh organized the first platoon into an engineer reconnaissance force. The tops of the trucks were removed, machine guns were mounted, and the men locked and loaded in preparation for a trip towards the front to obtain necessary information on the condition of the bridges ahead.

The convoy, looking very “combat,” rode past Frisange and Filsdorf out to Mondorf. The civilians all seemed surprised and happy to see the Americans pushing forward. Just shy of Mondorf, however, the convoy was stopped by a soldier of a cavalry outpost dug in alongside the road. He informed Captain Rebh that a sizable enemy force was holding the town below, in plain view of the convoy. He advised Capt. Rebh that if he had no heavy weapons, he had better not try to advance any further, as the Germans had held off all previous attempts to enter the town. Notwithstanding this warning, the trucks sped past this last outpost towards the enemy positions. For one fleeting moment the first platoon geared for a direct assault on the Nazis, but, luckily for the enemy, the reconnaissance mission necessitated that they take the first turn to the left instead of going on into the contested town. It was quite some time before the next cavalry post was encountered. The men not only got a clearer picture of the sieve-like nature of a “cavalry screen,” but for that brief interval while riding between the two posts, they were in fact, the American front lines. The experience did not prove to be disastrous, however, and the patrol was able to complete reconnaissance of the bridges that were out in this area.

On 20 Sept. Major Ralph Ingersoll (famous author and editor) of the Special Plans Branch, G-3, 12th Army Group visited the area and ate at the 406 mess. He briefed the staff on the changes in the situation, emphasizing the new aggressiveness which the enemy was now showing. Evidences of this increased activity were already cropping up in the various commands.

The signal company had reported that their wire was being cut. Shots had been fired at the water point. Civilians told of Germans being seen in the woods near the division bivouac. The 43rd Cav. Rcn. Sqdn. Met so much resistance that they had to be reinforced with two assault gun troops and one tank company.

The situation was clearly a grave one. Security posts were instructed to waste no time when a challenge was not answered immediately. The men were experienced enough in combat ways so that the order to hit the dirt and fire at anything suspicious did not result in any “trigger happy,” needless waste of ammunition. The signal company put out their own walking patrol to prevent further cutting of their wire. A machine gun was set up at the water point.

In line with this new policy of caution, Sgt. H. T. Anderson’s squad picked up a suspicious looking civilian who was seen loitering along the road through the bivouac area. After ascertaining that he had seen nothing of import – he had been picking berries – he was brought to the CIC in Luxembourg City for further interrogation.

Three Germans were picked up about a half mile from the CCA bivouac area by the Luxembourg police. Lt. Col. Schroeder therefore ordered a patrol to comb the woods and surrounding areas for any further evidences of enemy stragglers or patrols. S/Sgt. Tuttle was encharged with the task, and used most of the third platoon for a thorough search of the nearby terrain. The enemy must have gotten wind of the fact that elite troops had been sent to seek them out, for in several days of active reconnaissance, the “Bronze Star sergeant” and his picked men of combat did not encounter a single Nazi. Woods, brush, railway boxcars, villages, and even ditches were completely examined for a radius of six miles around the bivouac. Civilian reports to the contrary, no contact with enemy forces, small or large, could be effected.

On 22 September relief came in the form of a combat team from the 83rd Div. Starting at 2100 the vehicles began infiltrating from Abweiler so as to lead the enemy to believe that the main body of the simulated force was still there.

Operation Bettembourg was thought to be a success by the staff. True, the mission XX Corps had of securing Metz was not accomplished at this time, but it was believed that the overall U. S. Army operation was materially aided by the action of enemy units in front of 23rd Hq. Sp. Trs. The movement of German reinforcements to this area was concrete evidence that they thought an American force was concentrated there. How completely their G-2 was deceived, or for how long, is not known. But one does not have to be a Clauswitz to understand that their belief in the presence of the 6th Armored Division there was a key factor in the movement of troops to the North.

In recapitulating, one can see that there was certainly ample reason for the Nazi intelligence to conclude that a sizable force was facing them. The traffic was heavy. Vehicles and men with the markings of the 6th Arm’d circulated continually. Normal radio functions were performed in the Corps hook-up. Sonic effects indicated the movements of a considerable amount of armor in the vicinity. It is inconceivable that enemy ground agents did not observe these operations. There is ample evidence that it fooled U. S. forces into believing the real Super Sixth was there. It is hardly presumptuous, therefore, to assume that the enemy was likewise deceived by the phantom armor, and to account for their actions accordingly.

Although there was no indication that the enemy ever did “catch on,” the staff nevertheless felt that the danger of compromise was present to an uncalled-for degree. The initial plan was for an operation of from forty to sixty hours. Through the insistence of XX Corps, who were counting heavily on the deceptive force on their left flank, the duration was extended to seven days. Though this was proof of the esteem in which 23rd Hq’s efforts were held by Corps, it was thought to be too long a period for this type of work to maintain its air of authenticity. After 48 hours the absence of the patrolling thrusts an armored division would normally send out to its front would certainly cause curiosity, if not suspicion. Furthermore, the necessary cooperation from the unit portrayed was not effectively given. There was even a picture in the Stars and Stripes showing a member of the 6th Armored Division with the text indicating the presence of CCB of that division in another sector.

Admirable cooperation was received on the other hand, from the adjacent 3rd Cavalry which supplied one platoon of light tanks to 23rd Hq. Shortly thereafter, however, it was necessary to reinforce them with two assault gun troops and one tank company. Nevertheless Colonel Reeder stated that, “It is not considered desirable to maintain organic supporting arms within deception units as such action is uneconomical of manpower and material.”

Another criticism was that part of the staff remained 207 miles to the rear of the operation. It later proved they could have been usefully employed had they been closer. Besides, it would have been easier to initiate the problem had the original base camp been within a few hours’ ride of the scene of operations.

The next three days were spent bivouacing in a woods along highway [unstated] ten miles west of Bettembourg. Shortly after the company had deployed in the area, light, intermittent rains precipitated a general scurry for cover. The not-quite-adequate protection afforded by the pup tents spurred the wishful thinkers to circulate rumors that a return to St. Germain was imminent.

The continued rain did not succeed in dampening the spirits, however. To replace the rapidly dwindling hopes of a return course at Club 26 was a new story from “unimpeachable” sources telling of comfortable quarters awaiting the organization in Luxembourg City. In the interim, the warm dry thoughts of billets were given a liquid stimulus by another issue of cognac.

The men were permitted to go to the nearby villages on short passes, but were warned against going in the direction of Bettembourg. Because of the danger of meeting people who knew them as 6th Armored personnel the men were also forbidden to loiter near the highway. This problem was to become more acute as the number of operations in the same general area increased.

At 1400 hours on 25 September the organization executed a swift maneuver which ended an hour later by the occupation of the commanding heights of Luxembourg City scarcely a fortnight after the first small allied force had liberated the picturesque capital.

The strongest inland fortress in Europe, the city had some fourteen miles of underground passageways, construction of which had started as far back as 963 A.D. under Siegfreid, first count of Luxembourg. It is inhabited by a population of some 50,000 people who speak French, German or the local Frankish patois, “Letzburgish.” The leaders of the Duchy, the Grand Duchess Charlotte and her Hapsburg husband, sourpuss Felix, had their palace located here. Felix had entered the city with the first Allied forces, while the Duchess, who had been staying in Washington, did not return until many months later.

The Duchy’s motto, “Mir Wolle Beine Wat Mir Sin” (we want to be what we are) was plastered all over the city as a indication that the populace had not succumbed to the Nazi superman doctrines. As part of what the Heinies had called Greater Germany, they had been subject to German conscription. Stories of the ingenuity of the Luxembourg youth in feigning disability were legion. Of those whose performances at the draft board were less convincing, a goodly portion deserted, and managed to wend their ways across the border to fight with the French Maqui or Belgian Armée Blanche. Further evidence of the true sentiments of the masses was shown by the thorough manner in which collaborationists were rounded up. The sight of bands of these pro-Nazis being marched through the streets, moreover, was a constant warning to our troops to be on their guard against possible espionage.

The high ground which the 406 stormed (in conjunction with the Signal Company and the 603rd) was an ideal OP on the outskirts of town, overlooking the city and miles of surrounding terrain. Located on this strategic property was the Priesterseminar, a parochial school which the Germans had been using as a barracks. A stone wall separated the grounds from the Limpespiel district’s suburban homes and farm lands which bordered the establishment.

The Germans had apparently left the place in a great hurry, for the disorder resembled a certain type house well known in Army parlance. Civilians were hired to clean up the mess, but it wasn’t until a good old fashioned army police call was ordered that the area began to look presentable. In the building, the 406th was assigned to the second floor of the EM’s wing. The quarters were crowded, but to men accustomed to the rigors of field life, the conditions were comparable to the comfort of a suite at the Waldorf.

For nine days the men rested, took care of their equipment, had their laundry done, and explored the city of Luxembourg, with its notorious valleys, and its forthcoming women. The Blarney theatre once again went into business, but rarely had attractions to match the adventures in the pitch black streets of the liberated city.

Shower details were sent regularly to the town baths. Additional time was allotted (or taken) for Xmas shopping and souvenir hunting. During the course of these activities a fortuitous financial situation was innocently happened on by certain members of the command. At that time French francs, Belgian francs, and German marks were all in use in the city. GI Joe was paid in Belgian currency, which was officially valued at one hundred francs to the French one thirteen. The Luxembourgers, however, valued it higher, giving anywhere from one fifty to two hundred French francs for one hundred Belgian. Since they were afraid to hold onto the inflated French franc, they were more than willing to make these exchanges. Several 406 men felt obliged to help them, and, after changing all their Belgian currency into French, they would proceed to the Army finance office where the French money could be turned back into Belgian at the regular rate. Within a few short hours of helping the populace to get rid of their French money, one could net a few hundred dollars. T/5 Feuer reports that money orders were exceptionally heavy that month.

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