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Operation Casanova

Two men washing dishes using metal cans for the water

An image from Thanksgiving. From the collection of Irving Mayer.

While the first platoon was engaged in their Cactus problem, the rest of the company was far from idle. At 0900 on November 4th the first truck crossed the IP in Luxembourg reaching a bivouac area one half mile northwest of Marlange, France, 33 miles away, by 1100 hours. The operation as planned as an extremely hazardous one. The 90th division was preparing a crossing of the Moselle River in strength, to the north of the area in which the 95th Infantry division was located. Included in the 95th Division’s plan (operation Casanova) for crossing the Moselle in their sector, was a cover scheme for the 90th. The 1st Battalion of the 377th Infantry Regiment, aided by 23rd Hq Sp Trs, was to simulate the 359th Infantry Regiment, and indicate preparations for a crossing in their sector. One rifle company of the 377th was to make an actual crossing at 2100 hours on D day, November 8. They were to advance 400 yards, dig in and wait for daylight, when a second rifle company would cross at 0600 hours by footbridge, and continue the attack.

23rd Hq was to assist the portrayal of the 359th by the usual deception methods, i. e. placing CP signs, posting MP’s and showing traffic by the 359th Infantry trucks from Aumetz (where the real 90th was located) to Ukange. An angledozer from the 406th was placed in Ukange to add to the engineer build up in preparation for an assault crossing. In addition, Heater was to construct a bridge sonically, employing sounds of bulldozers, trucks, outboard motors, hammering, unloading etc. This was to be done just to the north of Ukange, on the Moselle River with the 406 furnishing the security.

The enemy’s attitude was primarily defensive in this sector. However, they were quick to attack with mortar fire, any reconnaissance patrol which was observed, as several 406 men were to discover.

Starting at 1200 hours November 4, the detachment worked under the 377th Inf. Regt. and proceeded to employ special effects to portray the presence of the 90th Inf. Div. in the area. The 377th Regt’s efforts were mainly passive, since they naturally didn’t have any great desire to increase the enemy opposition on their front. They were due to cross the river on D day, and so they took a very quiet part in the deception, probably hoping that 23rd Hq would do the same.

The third platoon placed Pvts. Creerar, DiAngelo, Stone and Stykes on MP posts, while the rest of the company performed the usual guard details around the bivouac areas. The combination of mud, rain, cold, and the recent experience of garrison life made this the most uncomfortable operation upon which the company had ever embarked. The proximity of the enemy with their annoying habit of sending shells over every now and then did not make matters any better.

The few MPs that were posted did a bang up job. Pvt. Creerar, in the course of his traffic duties, was approached by Maj. Gen. Twaddle of the 95th Inf. Div. and questioned as to his identity.

“You’re from the 95th aren’t you,” said the General.

“No sir, I’m from the 90th,” replied this well-trained 406 man.

“I know better, soldier. You’re not from the real 95th,“ insisted the General.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. Of course I’m from the 90th, don’t you see my patch?” argued Creerar. The General didn’t let him off that easy, though. He asked him for the names of various officers in the division and received satisfactory replies. Try as he would, he wasn’t able to make Pvt. Creerar change his story. In fact, Creerar thinks the General drove off looking a little confused himself. At any rate, not long afterwards Lt. Col. Simenson drove up to the post with the highest praise for the work of the 406 MP’s, and reported that Gen. Twaddle was highly pleased with Pvt. Creerar’s conduct.

One of the few real combat engineer missions of the 406 was assigned to Sgt. Anthony Sauro and his squad at about 1830 hours on the night of November 6. The task was a bridge repair job on the road from Budange to Ukange to enable two way traffic for supplies and troops to pass. A glance at the map will indicate how important this bridge was to the success of the coming attack.

It was discovered in the reconnaissance by Lt. Robinson, S/Sgt. Price and peep driver Catling that the bridge was under observation of the enemy and that the whole area was under harassing fire. In fact the reconnaissance party, while investigating the damage, was forced to take cover by a heavy barrage which killed a civilian passerby just a few feet from them.

The work party reached their site 400 yards from the bridge at 1945 and were briefed on the situation. Absolute silence was to reign. As much work as possible would be completely in the woods and carried to the bridge. Guards were posted on the road on both sides of the work group.

Actual construction started at 2000 hours by the removal of the debris from the large shell hole on one end of the bridge. Fortunately the I beam stringers had not been damaged, so that a mere placing of floor boards and sand bags would do the trick. Fifteen minutes after work began the first flare went up and everyone hit the mud. The pouring rain was eclipsed for a few minutes by the shower of shells that peppered the area. But, regardless of the risk, there was a job to be done, and needless to say, the men of Sgt. Sauro’s squad did not shrink from their duty. After two hours of strenuous labor under the extenuating circumstances of rain (of both water and steel) and mud (with repeated baths therein) and pitch darkness, their task was completed. Once more the material of war flowed unhindered to the front (barely 1000 yards ahead), as the fighting engineers once more proved their undisputed mettle.

That same night T/5 Maki loaded Pvt. Nikol and his angledozer on his four ton and took him into the town of Ukange to add to the engineer build-up there. In spite of the shells that were dropping continually on all sides, it was decided to place the “cat” in full view on a prominent corner in the town. Sent to guard it were Cpl. Gerardo and a detail of men from the third platoon. Typical of the men’s remembrance of this occasion is the drawled out comment of Pvt. Don Brassfield, “That was the time when Ah re-e-ely got religion.” Until the crew withdrew on November 8, they were under constant artillery and mortar fire. Shells landed in front of the, and behind them, shrapnel flew over them, and under them, 88’s whizzed to the right of them and to the left of them, but miraculously not one of them was scratched. Small wonder that Brassfield, Allard and some of the others that went through this harrowing experience were ever afterwards scornful of the dangers of the pick and shovel.

On the morning of November 8, it was learned that the site that had been selected for the sonic bridge operation was the same as that chosen for a real steel treadway. At 1730 hours that afternoon there was a meeting at the 95th Div CP of Gen. Twaddle, Commanding General of the 95th; Col. Gaillard, Commanding Officer of the 377th Inf Regt; Lt. Col. McCrary, G-3 of the 95th Div; Lt. Col. Crowther, 95th Div Engr; and Lt. Col Simenson, 23rd Hq Sp Trs. The division engineer was strongly opposed to the proposed Heater operation, since a real bridge was going to be built on the proposed site. The alternate place a mile to the north lacked cover from protective infantry, and there was no smoke available. Besides, he thought it unwise to employ sounds prior to building an actual bridge. As a result, the CG decided that no sonic deception was to take place that night. In view of the readiness of the enemy to shell anything suspicious, it was probably just as well for the 406 men who were destined to have pulled security for the Heater that the General came to this conclusion.

Although the full employment of 23rd Hq’s deceptive potential was not utilized on this operation, the success of the corps attack was greatly aided by the superior quality of the special effects. The CP signs, MP’s at important crossroads, patches, bumper markings, the angledozer in Ukange, the traffic from the real 90th to Ukange, and the maintenance of the simulated 3rd Bn, 359th Inf Regt. all contributed important indications that the 90th Inv. Div. was in that area. The attack proceeded satisfactorily, particularly in the real 90th Division’s sector. G-2 of 12th Army Group reported that captured PW’s expressed surprise at the 90th’s crossing of the Moselle River. However Lt. Col. Simenson felt that even though 23rd Hq greatly assisted in the deception accomplished through special effects, the contact of the detachment was decentralized too low for proper operation. Furthermore, the capabilities of Heater were not fully appreciated, and it was recommended that this information should be made available to commanders through more demonstrations.

At 1000 hours on November 9 the company left Marlange and returned to base camp at Luxembourg, arriving at 1220 hours that afternoon. Three days later the first platoon returned, and another period of rest, training and cultivation of our Luxembourg allies was resumed.

On November 14 the organization turned out to witness Gen Doran, the head of the 12th Army Group special troops, present awards for outstanding service to members of the 23rd Sp Trs. In the 406th, the men so honored were Lt. Aliapoulos and S/Sgt Tuttle with the Bronze Star, and Sgt. Cogan with the Certificate of Merit. The commendations for all three was for action performed on Operation Brittany, when the third platoon was “cut off” near Lorient, France. (see operation Brittany Peninsula)

Physical conditioning was emphasized during this period, with long hikes during the day and a new obstacle course instigated at night. This latter training was for volunteers who wished to see the sights of Luxembourg without the weight of a pass to burden them. The officers did not quite understand the spirit of these men. They (the officers) believed that the ease with which it was possible to enter and leave the grounds via the famous “back door” was the cause d’etre for the regular breach of army regulations. Forthwith the rear exit was locked, a guard placed in the vicinity, and a concertina barricade set up in front of it. This was all that was needed to spur the combat yearning Blarney men, who otherwise might have waited their turn on the pass list, to use the back gate, just so they could keep in trim. In fact this desire for more exercise, induced many of the pass detail to hike to the extremities of the town, climb up and down steep hills (going to and from the city’s picturesque and popular valleys) as well as to vault the walls of the seminary. All of these activities were generally performed at the curfew inspired pace that would have put even the fastest forced marches to shame.

In addition to the normal interim training schedule, with the usual inspections and classes, and particular emphasis on presentable clothes and statements of charges, the 406 was assigned the job of graveling the muddy roads and motor pools on the seminary grounds. The gravel details, with breaks given in the nearby cafes, were usually a welcome respite from the sometimes tedious training schedule.

Highlight of the month’s activities was the Thanksgiving day program. There was much for every member of the command to be thankful for, but the non-coms in particular felt they owed a special debt of gratitude to Providence and the privates. In expression of their grateful feelings, they volunteered to make all arrangements for a successful affair, including the performance of all details for the day. If it wasn’t enough for the privates to witness first Sergeant Toth, and the platoon sergeants vigorously peeling potatoes and performing other KP duties under the watchful eye of Staff Private Yerka, then they were able to derive further vicarious pleasure at their tables where the waiters were none other than the squad sergeants and corporals. The grandiose meal left nothing to be desired in culinary enjoyment, but nevertheless some of the company gorged themselves even more at private homes in town later that afternoon. The non-coms (and some of the line up at sick call the next day) were very thankful that they only have to be thankful once a year.

On November 27, official notification was received that the 406th Engineers was entitled to battle credit for participation in the campaign “Normandy,” an award which was subsequently to attain much greater significance with the attachment of five points towards discharge for it and each succeeding campaign star.

Although still assigned to Twelfth Army Group Special Troops, on December 2, 23rd Hq Sp Trs became attached to the First U. S. Army. It was purely an administrative move to facilitate operations in that army’s sector.

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