Sunday, February 14, 2010
The Gallantry of Schuylkill County Soldiers And Sailors In World War 2
Photo From the 745 Tank Battalion Regimental History
TANKER WITH 745TH TANK BATTALION
PRIVATE WILLIAM J. SAM GETS SILVER STAR FOR GALLANT ACTION
Pottsville Republican November 22, 1944
Somewhere in Germany, October 13, 1944. Pvt. William J. Sam, son of Joseph Sam of Pottsville, Pa. was decorated with the Silver Star for gallantry in action against the enemy in Germany this afternoon, with (censored) commandant of the famous 1st Infantry Division, pinning the award on Sam and other members of his tank crew in a special ceremony.
Sam and the members of his tank crew were awarded for having knocked out two enemy tanks and a pillbox after their own tank had been disabled by fire from one of the German tanks.
The action occurred during a pill box assaulting expedition in the Siegfried Line (censored). The tank moved to the top of a ridge in order to assault one pillbox from the rear and came face to face with two German tanks, one a Mark IV and the other a Mark V. The Germans opened fire and hit the American tank on the right side breaking the track and making the tank immobile.
Sgt. Archie Ross of Sharon, Wis. Tank commander, spotted the two tanks camouflaged in a clump of brush just about 100 yards to his right front. Ross ordered Cpl Alvia Beck of Rockford, Ill. The gunner to open fire. Beck alternated firing on the two tanks and pumped 10 shells into each, setting them both on fire.
During the action the tank was sniped at from the pillbox it originally planned to assault as well as from enemy infantry in the woods about 500 yards away, Ross ordered the guns turned on the pillbox and drove out 15 prisoners who surrendered to accompanying infantry. Then the tank opened fire on the enemy infantry and drove them to cover after which the crew abandoned the disabled tank.
This bit of action climaxed an afternoon of pill box assaulting in which Ross’s tank and a tank destroyer knocked out five pill boxes and took a 112 prisoners.
Sam was assistant driver and bow gunner. The tank and its crew is a part of the 745th Tank Battalion. The battalion landed at Normandy in support of the 1st Infantry Division on June 6 and has been working with it ever since.
It played an important role in the big breakthrough at St. Lo, in closing the Falais gap and in pursuing Germans thru France and Belgium. More recently it has held an important part in the task of piercing the Siegfried Line.
Meanwhile tanks from Company "B" were assaulting pillboxes daily, firing on them and driving out the occupants or making it possible for the infantry to approach close enough to use pole charges. Where possible tank dozers were used to pile dirt in front of the firing apertures to render the pillbox ineffective.
On October 17 a tank commanded by Sgt. Archie Ross with T/4 Edgar G. Ireland, as driver; Cpl. Alva E. Beck, gunner; Pvt. William J. Sam, assistant gunner, and Pvt. Everett Lloyd, assistant driver, knocked out two enemy tanks
And a pillbox after the tank had been immobilized by fire from one of the enemy tanks. When Maj. Gen. Clarence Huebner, Commanding General of the First U. S. Infantry Division, heard of the deed, he ordered a special ceremony at which he presented Silver Star awards to each member of the crew.
Pvt. William J. Sam Company B, 745th Tank Battalion was killed in action on March 1st, 1945.
FOR GALLANTRY IN ACTION
Pfc. Raymond E. Wolfgang
Pottsville Republican November 27, 1944.
Pfc. Raymond E. Wolfgang, Mowry, who served as an automatic rifleman with the Fourth Division in France, has been posthumously awarded the Silver Star for “Gallantry in Action.”
The Citation Read:
“Pvt. Wolfgang, manning his automatic rifle, was guarding his company’s left flank, and maintaining a constant accurate fire, thus preventing the enemy from harassing the flank. All through the night Pvt. Wolfgang remained at his position using hand grenades to repel enemy infiltration tactics.
“This constant heroic defense was maintained by Private Wolfgang until early the next morning when he was killed. By his heroism and devotion to duty PFC Wolfgang became an inspiration to his entire company.”
Pvt. Wolfgang was killed June 22, 1944 in Normandy. He is buried in Lavelle.
4th Infantry Division was reactivated on 1 June 1940 at Fort Benning, Georgia, under the command of MG Walter E. Prosser. 4th ID was reorganized to the Motorized Infantry Division TO&E on 1 August 1940. 4 ID was assigned—along with 2d Armored Division, to the I Armored Corps. 4 ID moved to Dry Prong, Louisiana.
The Fourth Division arrived in the UK in early 1944. It took part in the Normandy Invasion landings at Utah Beach, with the 8th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division being the first surface-borne Allied unit to hit the beaches at Normandy on D-day, 6 June 1944. Relieving the isolated 82d Airborne Division at Sainte-Mère-Église, the 4th cleared the Cotentin peninsula and took part in the capture of Cherbourg on 25 June. After taking part in the fighting near Periers, 6–12 July, the division broke through the left flank of the German Seventh Army, helped stem the German drive toward Avranches, and by the end of August had moved to Paris, and gave French forces the first place in the liberation of their capital. During the liberation of Paris in WWII, Ernest Hemingway took on a self-appointed role as a civilian scout in the city of Paris for his friends in the 4 ID. He was with the 22nd Infantry Regiment when it moved from Paris, northeast through Belgium, and into Germany.
Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany
The 4th then moved into Belgium through Houffalize to attack the Siegfried Line at Schnee Eifel on 14 September, and made several penetrations. Slow progress into Germany continued in October, and by 6 November the division entered the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, where it was engaged in heavy fighting until early December. It then shifted to Luxembourg, only to meet the German winter Ardennes Offensive head-on (in the Battle of the Bulge) starting on 16 December 1944. Although its lines were dented, it managed to hold the Germans at Dickweiler and Osweiler, and, counterattacking in January across the Sauer, overran German positions in Fouhren and Vianden. Halted at the Prüm River in February by heavy enemy resistance, the division finally crossed on 28 February near Olzheim, and raced on across the Kyll on 7 March. After a short rest, the 4th moved across the Rhine on 29 March at Worms, attacked and secured Würzburg and by 3 April had established a bridgehead across the Main at Ochsenfurt. Speeding southeast across Bavaria, the division had reached Miesbach on the Isar on 2 May 1945, when it was relieved and placed on occupation duty. Writer J.D. Salinger served with the division 1942–1945.
World War II Casualties
4,097 Killed in Action
17,371 Wounded in Action
757 Died of Wounds
Troops of the 4th Infantry move off the Utah Beachhead on D-Day8th Infantry Regiment
12th Infantry Regiment
22nd Infantry Regiment
20th Field Artillery Battalion (155 mm)
29th Field Artillery Battalion (105 mm)
42nd Field Artillery Battalion (105 mm)
44th Field Artillery Battalion (105 mm)
4th Reconnaissance Troop
4th Engineer Battalion
4th Medical Battalion
4th Quartermaster Battalion
4th Signal Company
704th Ordnance Company (LM)
ON ETERNAL PATROL
A telegram received by the family of Thomas Kneib stated that Machinist Thomas Kneib is missing in action on a submarine in the Pacific. He is a graduate of Frackville High School and entered the service January, 1943 and trained at New London, Conn
Rank/Rate Motor Machinist's Mate, Second Class
Service Number 08172175
Birth Date February 18, 1923
From Frackville, Pennsylvania
Decorations Purple Heart
Submarine USS Shark (SS-314)
Loss Date October 24, 1944
Location Between Hainan and Bashi Channel
Circumstances Probably sunk by depth charge attack
Remarks Thomas was born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania.
Information courtesy of Paul W. Wittmer.
Shark was lost during her third war patrol, probably in the vicinity of Luzon Strait, while participating in a coordinated attack group with submarines Seadragon (SS-194) and Blackfish (SS-221). On 24 October, Seadragon received a message from Shark stating that she had made radar contact with a single freighter, and she was going in to attack. This was the last message received from the submarine. She was reported as presumed lost on 27 November.
On 6 January 1942, Shark was almost hit with a torpedo from a Imperial Japanese Navy submarine. A few days later, she was ordered to Ambon Island, where an enemy invasion was expected. On 27 January, she was directed to join the submarines patrolling in Strait of Malacca, then to cover the passage east of Lifamatola and Bangka Strait. On 2 February, Shark reported to her base at Soerabaja that she had been depth-charged ten miles (16 km) off Tifore Island and had failed to sink a Japanese ship during a torpedo attack. Five days later, she reported chasing an empty cargo ship headed northwest, for which Admiral Wilkes upbraided her commanding officer. No further messages were received from Shark. On 8 February, she was told to proceed to Makassar Strait and later was told to report information. Nothing was heard and, on 7 March, Shark was reported as presumed lost, the victim of unknown causes, the first American submarine lost to enemy ASW. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 24 June.
Post-war, Japanese records showed numerous attacks on unidentified submarines in Shark's area at plausible times. At 01:37 on 11 February, for example, the Japanese destroyer Yamakaze opened fire with her five-inch (127 mm) guns and sank a surfaced submarine. Voices were heard in the water, but no attempt was made to rescue possible survivors.
BRONZE STAR AWARDED TO
CAPTAIN ROBERT D. TRATHEN
Pottsville Republican November 18, 1944.
The citation reads:
To Captain Robert Trathen, member of the 87th Chemical Mortar Warfare Battalion for meritorious service in support of active combat operations from D-Day June 6, 1944 to July 25, 1944. Captain Trathen supervised the entire operations of his unit, insured that the guns were also in position to fire and that sufficient ammunition was on hand, that necessary liaison with other units was accomplished and that security was affected. One occasion when other officers were unavailable for forward observer duty, Capt. Trathen personally undertook the mission. This entailed an advance to the furthermost outposts of infantry positions and from this the location by radio, directed the fire of his company’s mortars. At these times Capt. Trathen though subjected to enemy observation and fire, with complete disregard for his personal safety never failed to superbly carry out his designated task.
Captain Trathen has proved an outstanding example to his men. He constantly led them, rallying them when extraneous factors caused confusion and doubt. The job done by this officer, though often under the most hazardous circumstances has been accomplished in a superior manner.
Captain Trathen is also permitted to wear the Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon, which the battalion, of which he is a member, was awarded for their D-Day activities.
He entered the service in 1936, He is the son of Mrs. Joseph Ferner, Gordan
There is an excellent web site on the 87th Mortar Battalion here:
Lieut. Commander Harvey J. Smith Jr.
U.S.S. West Virginia Pearl Harbor
USS West Virginia
Pottsville Naval Officer Last to leave the sinking U.S.S. West Virginia at Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.
Lieut. Commander Harvey J. Smith Jr.
This is an interesting story found in the Pottsville Republican on November 29, 1944 entitled “Made Lieut. Commander”. But in reality is a short story of another Schuylkill County hero. Lt. Commander Harvey J. Smith Jr.
The story reads:
Pottsville native has been promoted to the rank of Lieut. Commander in the U.S. Navy, effective November 1st. Lt. Commander Smith has been in the Navy since his graduation from the Naval Academy in June 1940, and was assigned to the U.S. S. West Virginia, on which he was made fire control officer in charge of a battery of 16 guns. This ship was then based at Pear Harbor, and was one of the first ships sunk when the attack was made on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941.
The West Virginia was the largest and most powerful battleship afloat at the time. Lt. Commander Smith aided heroically in removing the wounded and was the last man to leave the ship alive. He was forced to dive over the burning ship into the sea, swimming under water, and was temporarily blinded from the hot oil. He was picked up and taken to a hospital badly burned and with his feet lacerated.
STORIES FROM THE INVASION OF FRANCE!
PORT CARBON 101st AIRBORNE DIVISION LIEUTENANT WOUNDED;
ONE OF THE MOST FAMOUS 101ST AIRBORNE DIVISIONS ACTIONS DURING THE INVASION OF FRANCE.
LT. JAMES V. CAULEY
HELPED LEAD WILD BAYONET CHARGE!
POTTSVILLE REPUBLICAN JULY 23, 1944
A Port Carbon young man was one of the officers of a paratroop group whose wild bayonet charge helped capture Carentan during the invasion of France, June 11, and whose exploits are featured in a story in the recent issue of Stars and Stripes, official Army Newspaper.
He is Lt. James V. Cauley, 101st Airborne Division 3/502 –S3…son of Mr. And Mrs. Maurice J. Cauley, 234 N, Coal St. prior to entering the service was one of the executives of the water department for the C&I Company here.
The diminutive young man was wounded in the attack, for which he has received the Purple Heart medal, and also shares in the Presidential Citation awarded to his company FOR VALOUR.
Robert Rueben, a Reuter’s war correspondent, has written the story of the wild charge, which will go down in history as one of the bravest of the war.
USED COLD STEEL ON NAZIS
He writes as follows:
Advanced Airborne Base, Somewhere in France. Led by a fiercely fighting Lieutenant Colonel, a battalion of American paratroopers the terror of German troops in this area of the Cherbourg Peninsula made a wild bayonet charge into enemy machine gun, rifle and mortar fire to help secure the capture of Carentan.
The 101st Paratroop Battalion fought seemingly impregnable German hillside fortifications for thirty long hours.
When the fighting was the most intense they organized their bayonet and rifle attack from ditches and swamps and then raced about 200 strong up the hill into the German fortifications behind their shouting storming Lt. Col Robert Cole, of San Antonio, Texas.
It looked like we could not go ahead because of the fire and we could not go to either side because of the flooded areas; we could not go back, so that’s when the Colonel organized a bayonet attack.
Cole passed the word back thru the ditches lining the road: fix bayonets. Load your guns, were going to charge.”
His troops jumped across or waded thru canals chest deep with water, and fought their way in to the German emplacements which surrounded a small wooden farm house.
“ They charged like wild animals” a captured German said. “They screamed and shouted when they charged into our fire. It was unbelievable.”
The bayonet attack was only part of the now historic capture of Carentan. Cole’s men strung rope across a wrecked bridge, covered the ropes with boards from fences and then sneaked across under fire, single file, during the night.
At one point a group of men were pinned in a ditch by a machine gunner a short distance ahead hidden behind a fence and surrounded by water.
Sgt. Hubert Odom, Albany, GA. Slipped out of his trench into the water in front of the hedge while the machine gunner was reloading. The water reached his neck, but when he located the gunner he threw in a hand grenade and blew out the nest.
Cauley’s wife is the former Mary Hughes, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Fred Hughes St. Clair. They were married May 2 1942, and in sending the above clipping from the Stars and stripes to his wife he states, “Do you remember Col. Cole, the guy who did not want to leave me off to be married” it was in this attack that I got it.”
Cauley was commissioned at Fort Benning, Ga. In December 1942 and was stationed at Fort Bragg before going overseas in September, 1943.
Lt Col. Cole parachuted into Normandy with his unit as part of the American airborne landings in Normandy. By the evening of June 6, he had gathered 75 men. They captured Exit 3 at Saint Martin-de-Varreville behind Utah Beach and were at the dune line to welcome men from the U.S. 4th Infantry Division coming ashore. After being in division reserve, Cole's battalion had guarded the right flank of the 101st Airborne attempts to take the approaches to Carentan.
On the afternoon of June 10, Cole led 400 men of his battalion single file down a long, exposed causeway (Purple Heart Lane), with marshes at either side. A hedgerow behind a large farmhouse on the right was occupied by well dug-in German troops. At the far end of the causeway was the last of four bridges over the Douve River flood plain. Beyond the last bridge was Carentan, which the 101st had been ordered to seize to effect a linkup with the 29th Infantry Division coming off Omaha Beach.
During the advance Cole's battalion was subjected to continuous fire from artillery, machine guns and mortars. Cole's battalion, advancing slowly by crawling or crouching, took numerous casualties. The survivors huddled against the bank on the far side of the causeway. An obstacle known as a Belgian gate blocked nearly the entire roadway over the last bridge, allowing the passage of only one man at a time. Attempts to force this bottleneck were futile, and the battalion took up defensive positions for the night.
During the night, Cole's men were exposed to shelling by Germans mortars and by a strafing and bombing attack by two aircraft, causing further casualties and knocking Company I out of the fight. However the fire from the farm slackened and the remaining 265 men of 3, 502 infiltrated through the obstacle and took up positions for an assault.
With the Germans still resisting any attempt to move beyond the bridges, and after artillery failed to suppress their fire, Cole called for smoke on the dug-in Germans and ordered a bayonet charge, a rarity in World War II. He charged toward the hedgerow, leading only a small portion of his unit at first. The remainder of the battlion, seeing what was happening followed as Cole led the paratroopers into the hedgerows, engaging at close range and with bayonets in hand-to-hand combat. The German survivors retreated, taking more casualties as they ran away.
The assault, which came to be known as "Cole's Charge," proved costly; 130 of Cole's 265 men became casualties. With his battalion exhausted, Cole called for the 1st Battalion to pass through his lines and continue the attack. However, they were also severely depleted by mortar fire crossing bridge #4, such that they took up positions with 3rd Battalion rather than proceeding. There, on the edge of Carentan, they were subjected to strong counterattacks by the German 6th Parachute Regiment during the morning and afternoon. At the height of the attack, at approximately 1900, Cole's artillery observer managed to break through radio jamming and called down a concentration by the entire Corps artillery that broke up the attacks for good.
LTC Cole was recommended for a Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but did not live to receive it.
On September 18, 1944, during Operation Market Garden, Colonel Cole, commanding the 3rd Battalion of the 502d PIR in Best, Netherlands, got on the radio. A pilot asked him to put some orange identification panels in front of his position. Cole decided to do it himself. He was placing a panel on the ground when he was shot and killed by a German sniper.
Two weeks later, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bayonet charge near Carentan on June 11. As his widow and two-year-old son looked on, Cole's mother accepted his posthumous award on the parade ground, where Cole had played as a child, at Fort Sam Houston.
LTC Cole is buried at Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, in Margraten, the Netherlands Medal of Honor citation
For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty on 11 June 1944, in France. Lt. Col. Cole was personally leading his battalion in forcing the last 4 bridges on the road to Carentan when his entire unit was suddenly pinned to the ground by intense and withering enemy rifle, machinegun, mortar, and artillery fire placed upon them from well-prepared and heavily fortified positions within 150 yards of the foremost elements. After the devastating and unceasing enemy fire had for over 1 hour prevented any move and inflicted numerous casualties, Lt. Col. Cole, observing this almost hopeless situation, courageously issued orders to assault the enemy positions with fixed bayonets. With utter disregard for his own safety and completely ignoring the enemy fire, he rose to his feet in front of his battalion and with drawn pistol shouted to his men to follow him in the assault. Catching up a fallen man's rifle and bayonet, he charged on and led the remnants of his battalion across the bullet-swept open ground and into the enemy position. His heroic and valiant action in so inspiring his men resulted in the complete establishment of our bridgehead across the Douve River. The cool fearlessness, personal bravery, and outstanding leadership displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Cole reflect great credit upon himself and are worthy of the highest praise in the military service.
HIT THE NORMANDY BEACHHEAD WITH THE FIFITH WAVE
S/SGT. JOHN LEVITSKY
In the July 23, 1944 issue of the Pottsville Republican a story was written entitled. Sgt. Levitsky Tells How He was wounded.
Headquarters Eurpoean Theatre: The Purple Heart has been awarded to S/Sgt. John Levitsky, 23, of Route 1, Pottsville, Pa. who is recovering at a U.S. Hospital of wounds received in action.
“It happened about 7 o’clock on the evening of July 4” , Sgt. Levitsky said. “My infantry outfit was attacking the Jerries at St. Georges de Bohon, about eight miles below Carrentan. An 88mm shell went off about 20 yards away, and I felt something hit my nose.
“I yelled for a medical soldier, who came crawling over to me and administered sulfa powder. It wasn’t until I walked back to the Battalion aid station in the rear to get my bandage changed that I realized what a close call I had had. A fragment of shrapnel about the size of a 22 caliber had gone through the left side of my nose and out the other side, and the doctors fixed me up so skillfully that I won’t even have scars to show my grandchildren. “
Sgt. Levitsky hit the Normandy beaches with the fifth assault wave and was in the thick of the fighting until wounded.
“Once when things were quiet we holed up in a wrecked barn on the Cherbourg Peninsula, “Sgt. Levitsky recalled. “There was a lot of French cider in there. We Yanks made the most of it, you can bet.”
In civil life Sgt. Levisky was a farmer and truck driver in Pottsville, working for his father. He also worked for the James J. Stutz Trucking co. Minersville.
DIDN’T KNOW HE WAS HURT, SAYS POTTSVILLE BOY NOW IN HOSPITAL
POTTSVILLE REPUBLICAN JULY 23, 1944
Headquarters European Theatre: Sgt. Russel J. Murphy, 23, of 520 N. Second St., Pottsville, a member of a demolition squad of engineers which hit France during the first week of the Invasion, has been awarded the Purple Heart at a U.S. Army general hospital in England for wounds received in action.
“We arrived in France on D plus six,” said Sgt. Murphy. “We traveled right along with the infantry and tank outfits. One night our 11th day over there, we were preparing for an attack when the Germans beat us to it and started shooting mortars. I was strapping TNT to a tank when the blast from form one of the mortar shells picked me off the ground, whirled me around and tore my pack off my back.
“I didn’t realize I was hurt at first. Then a medic came out and patched me up and put me in a ditch until the barrage was over. About two hours later they came and picked me up, “He said.
1st Lt. Phil J. Harbrechi of Pomeroy, Ohio the ward surgeon, said, “Murphy is improving rapidly and with a few weeks rest and medical care will be able to return to duty.”
He has two brothers in the service, Sgt. Francis Murphy, is in Italy, and Earl is in the Pacific with the Navy.
After recovering he was assigned to the USS Tennessee and taught gunnery school at Bremerton, Washington. He participated in all the battle fleet engagements in the Pacific. In January 1944, he was transferred by request to the Submarine Service, and sent to New London, Conn. Graduating in April 1944 and was then sent back to the Pacific for sea duty aboard a Submarine, where he is at present.