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Operation Wiltz

Soldier with gun standing next to a sign

A phony MP. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

Just when the men were catching onto the city’s resources and becoming acquainted with such hot spots as the Select, Apollo, Cameo, Clou Bar and other stylish beer joints, the call to action was once more sounded. At 0845 hours on October 4th the second platoon crossed the Ip at Schobermesse Square to spearhead the drive. By 1530 that day, the rest of the company had followed, each with its respective combat command.

The 5th Armored Division was the unit that was going to be represented. They had been located on the relatively inactive V Corps front, and were moving to the north to participate in an attack in that area. V Corps was being relieved in their sector by VIII Corps. The purpose of 23rd’s operation was to cover the 5th Armored’s move and fool the enemy into thinking that it was still in the same general position.

The main portion of the enemy forces in this zone were fortress and static troops reported to be under the control of the 5th Parachute Division. The enemy held several small bridgeheads over the OUR [sic] River into Luxembourg, with a few small patrols active in the region. Artillery fire was light and sporadic.

The first platoon and headquarters were attached to Division Hq. and closed in on a bivouac area one mile west of Larochette, near Fels, Luxembourg at 1600. CCA, to which the second platoon was attached, operated in the vicinity of Malscheid, while CCB, with the third platoon attached, operated in the vicinity of Maesdorf. All of these places were in the same, or adjacent to, the areas occupied by the real troops. At daybreak on October 5, the real CCB began its northward trek. Their bumper markings were obliterated. The movement was in column. No apparent effort had been made to remove or conceal patches. To make matters worse, the real CCB had been located in open fields within sight of Maesdorf. Colonel Reeder felt that civilians in the area most certainly must have known that CCB had moved, and thought that the success of the operation would be endangered by leaving the simulated CCB in that vicinity. Therefore plans were altered to simulate the division in a new area along the route of the march of the real 5th Arm’d. CCB went into position northwest of Wiltz on the 5th of October, and Division Hq. completed the picture of consolidation in a new position by moving to the same vicinity the next day.

Radio and sonic means were employed for deception, but it was mainly the special effects that were relied on to make the operation a success. A detailed reconnaissance was made of 5th Armored traffic circulation, CP signs, bumper markings, and other evidences of local color. CP signs were left in place by the departing units. One platoon of real light tanks and one platoon of real medium tanks were attached from the 5th Armored for this problem, and these were placed in conspicuous positions near the edges and entrances to bivouac areas. The same was done with all organic vehicles. Guards and MP’s with the proper shoulder patches were also stationed at the entrances during daylight hours. The woods were so dense that this display on the outskirts could readily have led an observer to believe the remainder of the units were concealed deeper in the area.

The water point was set up in the same place as the 5th Arm’d had had theirs. The traffic was the same as had been usual at the real water point. When Division Hq moved from Fels to the vicinity of Wiltz, the water points were then established in the combat areas with continuous traffic regulation. Traffic to supply depots was also strictly controlled. In addition, MP’s were sent out to local police officials inquiring about lost vehicles. These mythical vehicles were to be brought into 5th Arm’d Hq at the simulated position, when found.

In the valley southeast of the CCA CP, 1st Sgt Jerry Glucken of A Co. 603rd Eng. captured two Germans. Under the assumption that there were more enemy soldiers and agents in the area, Heater played tank and camp noises for an hour and a half on the evening of October 7.

It is definitely known that, at least among our own troops, there was some degree of successful deception attained. Pvt. Gorman was on an MP post outside the CCA area when an EM from A Co., 22nd Arm’d Eng. approached. He noticed the markings of some of the vehicles and was startled to see that they were from his own company. Observing to Gorman that he didn’t recognize any members of his unit, he wanted to know what had happened. He was shuttled in rapid succession from Gorman to Sgt. Price to Lt. Robinson to headquarters where it was reported he was given a story that kept him speechless for the duration of the operation and an indeterminate period thereafter. The new men and equipment, he was told, were to replace his company who were expected to be wiped out shortly in an attack. He was then sent back to his unit.

The first platoon MP’s reported many instances of Fifth Arm’d personnel, including officers, inquiring about the location of their outfits – and also expressing surprise that the division was so far back. None, however, seemed to doubt the authenticity of the picture.

The local populace was the target for special efforts to portray the presence of the division. The usual pass patrols were sent into all the nearby towns, and on Sunday, Oct 8 convoys took volunteers to church to further substantiate the division’s presence.

On the suggestion of S-2 of the 121st Inf. Heater’s half tracks were sent into Bettendorf, Beaufort and Medernach. 5th Arm’d patrols had operated in these towns prior to their relief, and it was thought advisable to continue their activity.

The tankers who were attached from the 5th Arm’d had been told that they were going on a dangerous mission. They had further been briefed to forget anything they were to see or hear, and were threatened with a general court martial should it be discovered that they talked. Consequently, their respect for the Blarney troops was high.

The 5th Arm’d Div. never did attack, as originally planned, so there was no way to measure the effectiveness of the operation. Colonel Reeder, in an address to the entire detachment after their return to Luxembourg on October 9, expressed his complete satisfaction with the admirable performance of all troops involved. However, because of the poor cooperation of the simulated force, it is doubtful whether alert enemy intelligence could have been fooled. The colonel felt that a difficult operation of this type could be successful only if the unit to be represented was in a covered position, removed their bumper markings and shoulder patches, and departed from their position by infiltration under cover of darkness. The 5th Arm’d fulfilled only one of these conditions, so that no matter how faithful the picture painted by the troops of 23rd Hq. was, only the laxity of the enemy agents could have covered the northward movement of the real 5th Arm’d.

At 1900 hours on October 9, the company arrived once again at the Seminary for what was to be a long siege of military inactivity. After the usual allotted period for recuperation and cleaning up, combat hardening courses were instigated. These consisted of grueling hikes about the suburbs, foreign language lessons, tactical discussions of the day by day changes on the S-2 situation map, and much maintenance of individual and organizational equipment (including showers, shopping, and bunk fatigue). The orientations by Capt. Rebh or by Capt. Hotchkiss (Asst. S-2 23rd Hq.) kept the men briefed on the latest developments. Few soldiers or officers had a clearer idea of the “big picture” than the men who paid attention to these lectures on the inside dope as it came down from Corps intelligence reports. To insure that at least the basic information disseminated at these discussions was retained by the men, Captain Rebh required every member of the unit to know the names of the generals of the armies on the western front as well as the leading three, four, and five star generals in other theaters. In addition, the names of the staff of 23rd Hq. was made familiar to the men, and, in line with the outfit’s mission, it was required to know the T/O and T/E of Armored and Infantry Divisions.

The retention of such information was tested orally in the course of the Saturday inspections where the usual high standard of cleanliness of individual equipment was likewise demonstrated. For those who failed to meet the minimum requirements, Captain Rebh had his secret banjo formula, and upon several occasions, some wayward 406 man could be seen using it to improve the air raid excavations on the Seminary grounds.

The Blarney theatre was running full blast during this period showing many of the latest and the best. Some of the more creative members of the command, however, felt the desire for a Blarney show, written, produced and performed by local talent. The offering was to be called the Blarney Breakdown, and rehearsals and tryouts were held for the next month with few people expecting anything more to come of it. But when Zilmer, Apicella, and a few of the other 603rd artists began work on the set, and Katz’s “Kittens” (with Johnny “Boot Nose” Krasko at the drums) started beating out some tuneful sounding jive, the skeptics weren’t so certain. Finally, on October 28 the gala grand opening took place. Besides Krasko, the 406th was represented in the production by Jim Sanderlin (My Sweet Embraceable You) and Joe Accardi (Night and Day). Art Nenezian and Dick Kooi were the electricians for the footlights and other set apparatus. Every Blarney unit had someone in the show, and all turned up to cheer their local pride and joy.

To the surprise of the majority, the performance turned out to be first rate entertainment, with some very original side splitting material. So great was its success that there was even rumors of sending it out on the road. But after its scheduled three night run, it closed down to remain just a pleasant memory.

Not long afterward, Marlene Dietrich and her USO troupe added one more attraction to the recreational program afforded the men of the 406th, by appearing on the Seminary stage. Marlene was undeniably one of the most sincere of the famous stars who gave their services for the men of the armed forces. But with all its sincerity and professional touch, the men felt the USO show couldn’t compare with their own Blarney Breakdown in entertainment value.

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