Skip to main content

Operation Metz II

Soldiers outside a truck in a snowy location

Setting up in the snow. From the collection of Irving Mayer.

The objective of this operation was to cover the movement of the 90th Infantry Division from XX Corps sector to the III Corps sector. The problem was to commence January 6th, 1945 and last until the 90th was committed in the attack.

To 23rd Hq. was assigned the mission of portraying the 90th in reserve in Metz, XX Corps area.

The real 90th was relieved in its zone (C. P. Vickering) by the 94th Division and was moved to the vicinity of Arsdorf. Relief was made piecemeal, the 90th moving without bumper markings.

By using its various effects, 23rd gave the impression that the 90th was moving into reserve in the City of Metz. This city was selected because it was the logical place to send the 90th if it was being placed in reserve. Another factor in the selection of Metz was that, since part of the 90th was moving during daylight, an obvious destination had to be chosen.

To create this impression, 23rd moved all its personnel into a large caserne on the outskirts of Metz. Here bumper markings were painted on and the old needles and thread were taken out to sew on the patches of the Texas-Oklahoma Division.

1300 07 January 1945, the deceptive operations began. The second and third platoons, playing the part of the 315th Engineer (C) Bn., loaded into their trucks and created misleading traffic movements about the countryside. Assuming its role of divisional M. P.s the first platoon patrolled the city in peeps.

Since the 90th had been quartered in the city at one time, there were numerous embarrassing questions on the part of soldiers and civilians.

A traffic control captain in the city was extremely perplexed because his outfit had not been told of the movement of the 90th back to the city. 90th Division officers and E.M. making their way back to their units, couldn’t understand why the vehicles were never going in the right direction for them.

It was cold and the snow clung to the roadways. So as part of the game and to aid traffic movement, some squads were sent out to scatter sand on the roads.

Pass details were organized and the men with the 90th insignias were seen circulating all over the city.

During the evening all units were confined to the caserne. This gave the troops time to investigate the buildings and to speculate why the last occupants had left the premises in such a disorderly state.

Accustomed to carrying out the Captain’s slogan of leaving a place better than you found it, the men were surprised at the amount of military debris they found. Mess gears with food in them, dynamite, grenades, small arms, ammunitions, and burp guns were just a few of the items that the last guests had left behind. The unfortunate death of one of the “Heater” men when an overlooked grenade exploded in a trash fire, made the men cautious of the rubbish piles.

While at Metz, the turkey dinner that had been skipped in Luxembourg was dished up. Once more the 406th culinary specialists did themselves proud and turned out an excellent meal. The fine repast put something of a holiday spirit into the troops and was in decided contrast to the scene that followed later that evening.

During the evening, S/Sgt. Terry in a routine check of his mess, noticed that seven loafs of bread and a small amount of coffee were missing from the kitchen. Upon questioning the cook who was in the kitchen at the time, he was unable to account for the shortage. The cook admitted that he had given out some bread for snacks but the amount did not jibe with the deficit. Desiring to solve the mystery, the mess sergeant took his tale of woe to the first sergeant.

Together the two sergeants made their way from room to room, questioning the occupants as to their knowledge of the missing bread and coffee. Their tour accounted for some of the missing bread but there was still a substantial amount to be explained. In the meantime, Lt. Aliapoulos overheard the mess sergeant beefing about the affair and related the incident to Capt. Rebh.

Most of the men were either in or getting ready for the land of nod, when word spread that there would be a company formation in five minutes. It hardly seemed possible. Outside it was windy, cold and the ground was covered with snow.

When the company had fallen out, Capt. Rebh had the men line up alphabetically and according to rank. He then repeated his attitude concerning stealing, reminding the men that the pilfering of rations was an offense against everyone in the company. The formation was asked to volunteer information about the vanished food. No one came forward, so Capt. Rebh told the assembled men what was in store for them.

A statement had been drawn up which said that the undersigned had no knowledge of the missing rations. Explaining that only part of the rations had been accounted for, Capt. Rebh told the men that they would be called up one by one and required to sign the statement or furnish some information about the food. While the procedure was taking place, everyone would stand at attention until the whole company had been grilled.

For three hours, in weather that was sending thousands to the hospital with trench foot, the men stood while the inquisition dragged on.

Finally it was over; Capt. Rebh announced that apparently no food had been stolen. The questioning had developed that the cook on duty had made an understatement about the amount of food he had given out. However, three men had signed the statement while withholding their knowledge of the incident. They were to be punished.

The benumbed men could not suppress smiles as Capt. Rebh brought the frigid affair to a close by solicitously suggesting that they treat their underpins for trenchfoot upon returning to their quarters. A private, T/5 and a buck sergeant were the three men who were accused of falsely signing the statement. The first two had acted in the belief that they were protecting a person who had done them a favor. The buck sergeant pleaded that when the announcement was made that some loaves were accounted for, he naturally assumed that this included the bread given him by the cook on duty. He had instructed his men to acknowledge they had had bread.

All three men were punished, the private by court martial – 30 days hard labor plus a fine, the T/5 was broken and given seven days hard labor, while the “buck” was just broken.

With these punishments ended an incident that is spoken of with more rancor than any other event that occurred to the company in the E. T. O.

On January 9th, the problem was officially over. The 90th had been committed to action. It was impossible to assay the results of this problem but army intelligence knew that Metz was full of enemy agents, so undoubtable the Wehrmacht had to consider the feint. [indecipherable handwritten line]

Since Luxembourg, headquarters had been seeking a new base garrison for its personnel. The time was 0815 hours on January 10th when the convoys left Metz and traveled sixteen miles to the Caserne Garde Mobile on the outskirts of Briey arriving at 1000 hours.

In peacetime, the Garde Mobile were a sort of national counterpart of the American state troopers. The Caserne, covering approximately a quarter of a square mile, had three story apartment type concrete buildings for barracks. An eight foot mortar wall encircled the entire grounds. Months of obstacle course practice made this wall a mere hop skip and jump to the late pass boys.

Two sections of the central building were assigned to the 406th. Into the larger section, moved headquarters, the first platoon, and the third platoon. Here was situated the orderly room and the kitchen. The smaller section was filled by the blatant second platoon.

A quick examination showed that there was a decided shortage of furniture in the buildings. And although the trucks had come well loaded with fittings, three trucks were immediately returned to the Metz garrison to pick up enough furniture to make the buildings livable for the hardy combat engineers.

Late in the afternoon, the trucks returned and the soldiers resembled busy little ants scurrying here and there fixing up their home. Well, the job was just about finished and the fellows all set to take five when the grapevine passed along the cue that the outfit was pulling out on another act next morning.

So after one night in Briey, the men were on the move again. However, duffle bags were left behind and this lead the men to believe that they had found a home once more.

It was five o’clock in the morning of January 11, 1945 when the trucks rolled out for “Operation Leglise.” By this time the “Battle of the Bulge” had turned to the allies’ favor and while the enemy was offering stubborn resistance in the Bastogne area, he was not considered aggressive.

This trip, 23rd’s objective was to cover the movement of the 4th Armored Division as it moved from VIII Corps to the vicinity of Luxembourg City commencing January 11, 1945.

In the problem area, the western part of VIII Corps, main opposition to the American forces, came from heavy mine fields and road blocks. Contact was difficult as the Germans were withdrawing rapidly. The only identification of the enemy that VIII Corps had was from P. W.s taken from 77th V.G.R. of 26 V. G. Division. The town of St. Hubert was firmly in the Yanks’ hands.

In fulfilling the Leglise mission, 23rd used the works, deceptive radio, bumper markings, patches and the old talk-talk atmosphere of men wandering around on pass.

406th headquarters platoon was assigned to C. C. R. commanded by Lt. Col. Truly. They played the part of the 24th Armored Engineer Bn. with their C. P. at Habay-La-Vielle.

Lt. Daly’s first platoon was assigned to Divisional Hq. at Leglise. Here they portrayed M. P.s and divisional headquarters’ personnel of the 4th Armored.

Terrible Terry’s mess was also with headquarters and had the honor of feeding Col. Reeder and seven other staff officers. As on previous occasions the “brass” was well pleased with the vitals.

Lt. Col. Schroeder headed C. C. A. and was ably assisted by the second platoon. Impersonating Co. “A” of the 24th Armored Engineer Bn., Lt. Robinson’s gang had their C. P. at Offaing.

Combat Command “B,” Capt. Seale commanding, was stationed at Les Bulles and was supported by the third platoon as Co. “B” 24th Armored Engineer Bn.

Deception started in the middle of the day, January 11th and continued till 1200 on 13 January 1945. During this time, the radios sent out their messages while marked vehicles and patched men circulated in the villages in the sector.

This gave the impression that the 4th Armored was in reserve in the vicinity of Leglise. Actually, it was moving south to Luxembourg.

Evidently the real 4th Armored boys had made quite an impression in this neighborhood for the pseudo Armorers were frequently asked if they knew “so and so, mon cheri”

Of course the men did their best to take the place of the departed lovers and, despite the short time, many succeeded.

The problem was officially called at noon January 13th. What effect, concealing the movement of Patton’s hard hitting Fourth Armored had on the enemy, was impossible to tell at the time.

Once the patches and bumper markings were removed, the trucks lost no time in returning to Briey.

When the many details that are necessary in setting up the house were finished, the men went out to mingle with the numerous civilians that gathered outside the gates. It was evident that these people were not curious spectators but active members of the “marché noir.”

Besides those interested in business there were a few damsels who would “you know what” for a bar of chocolate or a piece of soap. Since there was snow on the cold, cold ground, the squad trucks parked outside the wall were put to a use that they were certainly not intended for.

In exploring the countryside, the pass snatchers found out that Briey had nothing to offer in the way of entertainment. In the other direction, however, lay the town of Homecourt which had a theatre, women that were interested in soldiers and a reasonable facsimile of the good old “26” of St. Germain-en-Laye.

Although the maison de tolérance de Homécourt was never given a nickname, it sure was given plenty of business. Every night the lotharios of the 406th could be found at this palace of love. One sergeant even reached the quintessence of amour when his lady love insisted that their love be free. For him it was on the house.

When their money or strength ran out, the men could enjoy the camp movie. For once again, the Blarney Theatre was set up and showing its usual first run pictures.

The war was going well, the living was easy and everyone was content to let the struggle find its own conclusion. But this was not to be. Late in the day of January 17th, the first platoon was alerted for a problem.

About seven o’clock that evening, the third platoon headed out with the Heater unit for Flaxweiler, Luxembourg.

Please Support Our Ongoing Efforts

The soldiers of The Ghost Army used inflatable tanks, sound effects, and imagination to fool the Germans on the battlefields of Europe. The Ghost Army Legacy Project is ensuring that these men and their accomplishments are never forgotten.

Give via credit card by clicking the yellow “Donate” button.

Or, send a check to:

Ghost Army Legacy Project
1305 S. Michigan Ave. #1104
Chicago, IL 60605

All donations are tax-deductible!