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Operation Coblenz

Soldiers lined up outside waiting for food

The unit in Luxembourg. From the collection of Irving Mayer.

For six weeks the enemy sector opposite the VII Corps front had been relatively quiet with occasional scattered harassing artillery fire and slight ground patrol activity. American opposition had been so light here that the enemy was using the sector to train new divisions. Between Echternach and Grevenmacher the Germans held small bridgeheads on the west bank of the Sauer at Rosport, Born, and Wasserbillig. Enemy aircraft was reported to be making nightly reconnaissance flights over the Luxembourg-Diekirch area. Prisoner of War reports indicated the presence of a Panzer formation in the Wittlich-Bitburg area. Rail and road traffic in the rear was observed to be heavy by our aerial reconnaissance. The presence of an infantry division in the Leudersdorf area was also indicated.

With a heavy German concentration to the north of the VIII Corps front imminent, it was desired to draw additional German units to this sector, and prevent further withdrawal of enemy units until December 30. This was to be accomplished by indicating preparations for an attack toward Coblenz. The majority of the deceptive indications were to be transmitted to the enemy by actual units, the remainder by 23rd Hq Sp Trs. The absolute minimum number of personnel was allowed to know that the operation was notional, not actual, and that 23rd Hq Sp Trs were participating. All documents concerning the operation were classified TOP SECRET, while communications with 23rd Hq was by liaison officer only.

On December 5, verbal orders were transmitted to 23rd Hq concerning the simulation of the 106th Infantry Division. This was alternately changed to the 9th, 78th and perhaps a few others, before the 75th Infantry was finally decided on. New to the European theatre, this division was still in England and was just preparing to land at Le Havre. The plan was to bring them by radio from Le Havre and place them on the VIII Corps front to add to that Corps simulated preparations for an attack. The whole Corps was to aid in this deception by actually increasing patrolling activities, by concentrated bombings in the Moselle area, and by a feint at an attack by the 28th Infantry Division. This was to be the first phase of the operation. The scheduled attack was to be postponed on the 14th of December, and the second phase – simulating another division further to the north – was to begin. The German operation Grief (the Bulge) made this latter phase unnecessary. While it was true that the purpose of the Blarney operation was to bring German troops down to this area, it was a little embarrassing to find General Von Runstedt so willing to comply. If 23rd Hq was part of General Bradley’s “calculated risk,” events proved it to be a costly miscalculation. And the pity of it all was that the operation was carried out so successfully.

Lt. Col. Schroeder, acting as the billeting officer for the 75th Division, reported on December 7 to the Luxembourg Town Major to arrange for billets. At 1315 the same day, Capt. Rebh and Lt. Col. Fitz marked their jeep bumpers with the insignia of the 275th Engineers and reconnoitered their assigned areas for billets. The following day Lt. Daley took Mayer and Taylor to Hostert to hold on to billets for the first platoon and headquarters. Lt. Robinson occupied his assigned area with Maceda and Rolka, and also took Fitzgerald and Steich to grab some decent rooms for the third platoon.

The first platoon left for Hostert at 0910 on December 9th to “MP” the division into its area. The third platoon was attached to A Co., 603rd Eng. and departed for Rodenbourg at 1230 the same day, as part of Combat Team 289. All moves were accomplished by infiltration to a transit area west of Arlon, Belgium, where bumper markings were painted on. (23rd Hq also assisted corps artillery detachments to paint on markings for notional corps artillery.) From here the units proceeded in convoy over a probably route from Le Havre to their respective billeting areas.

A little difficulty was experience regarding the transportation for the first platoon. As MP’s they should have had jeeps and personnel carriers. Unfortunately the appropriate vehicles were not available. Instead the platoon’s regular two and a half ton dump trucks were used. Since these were obviously engineer vehicles they were appropriately marked with the insignia of Company A, 275th Eng. They carried the MP’s to Hostert, and then reported to Lt. Aliapoulos in Rodenbourg where they remained for the night. Later Capt. Rebh conducted the trucks to a secluded spot and remarked them for the use of Lt. Kelker’s Company C.

The notional 75th was picked up by radio at Sedan, France and carried by means of radio traffic control points, to the assigned area. The real 75th was meanwhile on the channel headed for Le Havre.

All units arrived in their areas just prior to darkness. After nightfall, additional columns were simulated by circular traffic and sonic deception. Daytime traffic centered about the water point which had been set up at 1800 on December 9th in Hostert.

The MP’s were posted at all important road junctions and were responsible for a major share of the special effects. As salient evidence of the division’s presence, the MPs, more than any other troops, had to be thoroughly briefed on what to say to the local populace and any other inquisitors, friendly or otherwise. Since a new division was being represented, certain general orders were issued to the entire command to carry out the impression of a unit freshly landed in the ETO. No loot, combat jackets, or non-issue equipment was to be displayed, and everyone was told to ask questions constantly and show evidences of greenness. (Some men played their parts so well that they were noticeably emerald-toned after the operation on December 16.)

In addition to these general instructions, the MP’s utilized the knowledge gained at Elsenborn and had Lt. Daley submit to headquarters a list of required information which was considered vital to the proper functioning of an MP. As a result a mimeographed sheet was issued to each post showing the location of all 75th units with their code names, real commanders, and the 23rd officers in charge. A short history of the 75th was also included on the paper. It proved to be of such value in portraying the division authentically, that the procedure was repeated on all subsequent operations.

The MP’s were assigned other jobs besides traffic control. In order to make sure that no one endangered the outfit by talking out of turn when under the influence, an order was given prohibiting the consumption of intoxicating drinks. A curfew was placed on all bars in the area – and it was the sad task of the 75th MP’s to enforce it. To the 4th Division and other units in the area, as well as to many civilians in the region, these MP’s were an overly familiar, and not welcome sight.

A further measure to prevent compromise was an order prohibiting vehicles to go west of the north-south line through Neudorf, or south of the east-west line through Wolferang without written approval of Provost Marshall Daley. It was up to posts II, III, and V to carry this out and prevent the dual 75th-23rd men from visiting friends in Luxembourg City while wearing their Doctor Jekyll clothes.

While the first platoon was carrying out this important phase of the operation, the rest of the company was performing another important phase of the indications for the planned attack. At 0900 on December 11, Sgt. Price left base camp with the second platoon for its area. The remainder of the company departed at 1230. Upon arrival in Hostert the engineer trucks were put to use hauling coal and gravel. The engineer battalion CP signs and more water point signs were posted at 1700 that night.

Combat team commanders began, on December 11, to reconnoiter forward areas as if in preparation for an attack. Captain Rebh was busy in the early part of the day putting trucks to use (the first platoon trucks had been picked up and remarked according to plan) for various details and atmosphere. The men in Hostert were circulated around the town. Shoulder patches were belatedly issued to the men (the delay attendant on Lt. Col. Truly’s return from his fact and patch gathering trip to 75th headquarters in England). The second platoon men were likewise sent into town, Junglingster and Fels being the nearest, to post CP signs for the regimental commander. The third platoon hauled gravel, following the same routes that had been designated for the operation.

At 1930 hours that night, Captain Rebh visited division headquarters and discussed an engineer reconnaissance of the Sauer river with Lt. Col. Fitz. It was agreed to leave the following morning for the first step in indicating river crossing preparations.

The reconnaissance party, which consisted of Capt. Rebh, Lt. Col. Fitz, 1st Sgt. Toth, Sgt. Duckworth, T/5 Feldman, T/5 Yanke and two EM from the 603rd, started out at 0900 hours, December 12. They traveled to Dickweiler where they questioned a platoon leader of the 9th Armored Div. who had his CP there. He gave them an estimate of the situation, including recent friendly and enemy actions and directed them to his foremost outpost for direct observation of the river. From here the party proceeded ahead to the high ground near Girsterklaus, and while observing the river, were fired on from the rear and pinned down by a small enemy force with automatic weapons. M1 fire was returned for about 15 minutes while a withdrawal was executed with Sgt. Duckworth anchoring the rear guard action. Captain Rebh reported that three men were definitely seen, one of whom Sgt. Duckworth claims to have hit. A platoon of 9th Armored Infantry helped the party return to Dickweiler. Having obtained the necessary engineer data, they proceeded back to Hostert.

The same day, the second platoon drove the four ton trucks and the angledozer through Junglinster and neighboring towns to draw attention to the engineer equipment in the area. Men and vehicles continued visiting the surrounding villages for special effects. The third platoon continued its special effects and gravel hauling.

At 1100 hours the next day, Captain Rebh visited the 4th Division Engineer at Lorentzweiler to arrange for the use of his assault boats. Then at 1300 hours, Lt. Kelker took three 2 ½ ton dump trucks and one 2 ½ ton cargo truck to Osweiler to simulate movement of foot bridge equipment toward the river. (The dump trucks were covered with tarps, while 12 EM rode on the cargo truck.) On the way back, two pole type trailers were picked up with 9 assault boats on each.

Capt. Rebh took his jeep, and at 1720 hours accompanied the three trucks with their trailers and boats back to Osweiler to show movement to the initial assembly area. After complete darkness the boats were moved out and returned to the 4th Division Engineer.

That same day, in order to indicate additional artillery support for the attack, some real tanks were moved into position in the Osweiler-Mompach area over routes visible to the enemy. After dark that night, these tanks were further augmented by sonic deception, with the second platoon providing security for Heater. From there, they proceeded back to base camp as 23rd began “fading” from the operation.

The third platoon continued its special effects and did some minor road work.

At 1000 hours on December 14th, Capt. Rebh received the details of the planned departure. The return was to take place after dark by infiltration, with bumper markings completely obliterated. As all vehicles had to pass post II, the MP’s stationed there were ordered to check all vehicles for markings and allow none to pass that might enter Luxembourg City with the tell-tale 75th insignia showing.

It was in the pitch black of this return march that T/5 Feldman dumped himself, his jeep and Capt. Rebh over a cliff at a sharp bend in the road from Senningen to Luxembourg. Fortunately, “Punchy” was not hurt. The captain was relieved of his command for three days while getting patched up at the 110th Evacuation Hospital, but there were otherwise no ill effects from the accident (barring a smashed windshield).

The MP’s were the last to close in, arriving at base camp on December 15th at 1410 hours. The night before several of the posts experienced an advance notification of the great German counteroffensive that was to start the next day. On post II, for example, a Luxembourg policeman awoke the three MP’s at 0400 hours to inform them that six Germans were downstairs. The sleepy trio agreed it would be better if the Gendarme took them to the Cactus CP which was just down the road. However, it developed that the six Boches were not prisoners, but were on the loose. The policeman had fired at them, but they had managed to escape. Desirous as they naturally were to jump up and pursue them, there was little the first platooners could do. Word was sent to a nearby anti-tank unit and a patrol was sent after them, but the scintillating chase did not end in captivating results. Similar incidents were reported at other police posts throughout Luxembourg, and in several cases some of the Germans, said to have been parachutists, were taken prisoner.

When the “bulge” did break, the 4th Division, then at rest, was left alone on that line. The story of how their cooks and clerks pitched in to save Luxembourg City is well known, but their anger at the 75th  Division for leaving them at such a crucial time has not been so well publicized. Many a 75th Division doughboy has wondered why he got a black eye from some 5th Division soldier when he not only knows that he didn’t run out on the 4th, but that he was never actually on the same front.

The portrayal of this division was so complete and detailed that there can be no doubt that ground agents in the area reported the presence of the 75th. One PW captured by the 12th Regiment of the 4th Division stated that he thought the 75th Division had taken him. Apparently the German officers had spurred their men on by telling them they were facing the green 75th instead of the combat-toughened 4th. Unfortunately, the operation, carried out in glory, was conceived in ignorance. The dead looking front turned out to be masking a very live German ogre. Blarney waved a very convincing red flag, not knowing that a whole herd of bulls was watching it.

Though no evidence of compromise was indicated, there were many dangers on this problem since it was so close to the base camp. Cpl. Creech, for example, met some soldier who swore he had seen him in Luxembourg City. Creech insisted that it was impossible, since he had never been there, so the fellow finally ascribed the similarity to coincidence and too much Schnapps. One EM from Hq Co 23rd Hq, however, was definitely recognized by a woman who knew his name. He pretended not to notice her and reported the incident to an officer. The woman was gone before anything could be done about it, however. As a result of these and other such incidents, Col. Reeder recommended that 23rd Hq should not participate in Phase II of the operation, since the local populace would be certain to recognize that the same personnel was in two different divisions. Field Marshall Von Rundstedt agreed with the colonel and arranged for the calling off of Phase II.

With the breaking of the news on the Bulge, Luxembourg became, during the day, a city of wildly excited people making hasty preparations to evacuate. This was contrasted with a morgue-like silence at night, broken only by the rumble of American equipment moving toward the front. Hitler had promised Germany a Christmas present of Liege and Luxembourg City. Although the little Duchy had faith in the American Army, they were concerned lest the U.S. temporarily sacrifice Luxembourg for strategic reasons. Having revealed themselves as anti-Nazis, they feared the wrath of the Heinies would descend on them should the Germans come back for even a few days.

Public unrest was not abetted any by the departure of Eagle TAC and most of the other units quartered in the city. For a while 23rd Sp Trs was about the only American unit left in the town. But the situation was grave and Blarney new it. All documents and records were placed in vehicles under guard. The rubber items and other special equipment were prepared for fire. The guard was doubled and preparations made for a last ditch defense of the Seminary. The area was divided into segments with each unit assigned to a different sector. The rear wall was entrusted to the 406th with a field of fire which included the top of the hill leading to Limpespiel Valley, several hay stacks, a house, and part of the signal company, whose sector jutted out from the right flank. It was felt by many that had West Point trained Captain Rebh been present (he was still in the hospital), these mistakes in strategic deployment would not have been made.

The Captain resumed command on December 18. The security blackout was still in force on the progress of the enemy attack, but the Allies were obviously in a tight spot. A steady stream of armor poured through Luxembourg day and night. Flags and patriotic displays were noticeably absent in the once gay capital. Cafes were shut down early in the evening. With such evidences of the natives’ lack of hospitality, 23rd Sp Trs decided to leave them to their fate and departed on December 21 for Longwy and Doncourt, France. Cold cement floors at Doncourt brought a twinge of conscience to the 406th, however, so they sped back to the Seminary that night. Besides, two extremely important problems were in the offing.

Some Third Army signal troops were already in the building, but room was found for all. These signal men had never been so far front before – and fell easy prey to the stories of grueling combat which the men of the 406th were only too willing to tell. The sight of snow covered trucks and machine guns was testimony enough as to the calibre of these front line troops. T/5 Poris, however, while standing guard with two of the more gullible of their numbers, had occasion to demonstrate proof that he spoke not in jest. On hearing a Jerry plane flying over, Poris told his green companions that it was old Bed Check Charlie paying his nightly visit. Seeing that they didn’t believe he knew the sound of an enemy plane Poris offhandedly predicted that nearby ack-ack would open up on him in a few seconds. Of course, talkative Normy had a reason all ready in case the ack-ack wasn’t forthcoming, but the AA boys were willing to cooperate, and put on a beautiful show of fireworks. The story got around, and thereafter the Patton signalmen spoke only in hushed tones of awe when referring to the Blarney combat troops.

The following morning the company was called together and told the score. Two divisions were to be represented on a short signal problem. The 406th was going along to provide security. Special effects were to be at a minimum. The operation, Capt. Rebh warned, carried with it the same secrecy as D day in Normandy. The American position was critical but far from hopeless. The crack 5th Infantry Division was on the line in the area for which the company was headed.

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