FOSSE (Trois-Ponts) - January 03, 1945
I Co, 505th PIR, 82nd Airborne Division
By Sgt. William H. TUCKER.
Today the 03rd of January 2012, 67th anniversary of the battle of Fosse. I want here to pay hommage to my dear friend Bill Tucker who made his final jump in November 2008. I've been proud and honored to be amongst his friend.
I associate my close friend Claude Orban and my close friend in Normandy: Francine, Morgane, Barbara and Ruppert.
This is a draft of my experience in the battle to attack Fosse which I Co, 505th PIR of the 82nd Airborne Division made on January 03, 1945.
We had a two days rest area after having been relieved on New Year’s day by the 517th PRCT. We had held that position since Christmas Eve and on that day as a result of Field Marshal Montgomery’s order to pull back. We had to fight our way to the route from Rochelinval to Basse-Bodeux after encountering elements of Jochen Peiper battle group, 1st SS Panzer Division. This group was at the same time trying to go back to Germany after they had been cut off in La Gleize area. Although we suffered some casualties and had to leave two good men at the railroad track at the Salm river, we did the move back successfully. We did not want to give up our strong position at Rochelinval on the Salm river, and believed we could have held there.
On 08.00 a.m., the 03rd of January 1945, we move along the road to-and-through Basse-Bodeux to the Initial Point (IP) of the attack which was a dirt trail where the road to Basse-Bodeux turned left towards Trois-Ponts. Our route was to take the trail to the right and then go up the hill and seize the town of Fosse.
Along the way to Basse-Bodeux, American heavy artillery was firing all along the front and when we were on the way about 100 yards away from us a “short round” hit and a piece of the shell stuck Pvt. DIGIRALMO in the head and killed him instantly, no one else was hit.
FOSSE, monument to thirteen men of I-Company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Div, who lost their lives on Jan. 03, 1945..
We went along the dirt trail all over the wooded hill between Fosse and Basse-Bodeux till we reached another dirt trail going up the hill. Captain McPHEETERS was leading the company and he moved pretty close to the top of the hill when he directed that my platoon, the second platoon, commanded by Lieutenant CHRISTIAN moved along the right side of the hill, it would be some distance from where we were coming out the woods to the town or the west flank of the town. The three squad leaders of my platoon knew Charlie MATASH, had a feeling that he thought enemy guns were nearby. Captain McPHEETERS was leading us as brave fine leader. Somebody had to move on to that part of the hill and see what had to be done. McPHEETERS was killed instantly with a machine gun bullet to his head and several of us were hit, including the fine Lieutenant DEGENHART badly wounded as he tried to move his men forward McPHEETERS. PFC CUTLER was cut down and died in the arms of his buddy, Sgt THOMPSON. Near CUTLER, Corporal Bill HALLAHAN, died as several machine gun bullets hit him.
MATASH’s first squad move along the upper left side of the hill and I lead my squad just to the right of MATASH’s people. By that time, we were getting heavy machine gun fire from the top of the hill and they were able to hit anybody as that went alongside of the hill. The first man hit was PFC Nick CAVALLERO who was killed instantly. Right after that, medic Patsy PASSERO was wounded several times, trying to help other wounded, even though his red cross bags were clearly displayed and could be seen by the enemy.
I was just below CAVALLERO and at that time Dennis FORCE of MATASH’s squad was moving up the hill. He went down when he was wounded by machine gun fire and at that point a burst hit him in the face while he was on the ground and also, I was hit to the helmet. This made a small hole in the half rear of my helmet and it gave me hole in the front but it did not break the skin of my head. I saw Pvt. STALD just ahead of me looking up the hill and I remember saying as I looked in my helmet, ”Hey STALD, is the top of my head still there?”, and it was.
We moved along right flank and the other platoons were moving along by this time mostly on the right flank below the crest of the hill. However the German machine guns were very well placed all along the top of the hill running in the little town of Fosse, somewhat towards Basse-Bodeux and they were taking their toll.
It had snowed off and on all morning and the snow was incredibly deep. Now, there is a combination of snow and sleet as we neared the side of the town. Some of us had got close to the town and we were about a hundred yards or so to the right of it looking towards the east. At some point very heavy and accurate German artillery began hitting our area. It was coming from Wanne, across the Salm river, so I was told later, but it got to be devastating. By that time, the closest people to the town were myself, Lieutenant CHRISTIAN and S/Sgt TEPSICK, our platoon sergeant. We were hiding behind the huge haystack and for some reason the Germans didn’t fire at it. But we were watching the artillery coming very intensely and we were loosing men strung out along the side of the hill to our rear.
What this artillery and did in a chance of surviving it more than anything else – and reaching our objective – I suggested that we consider an open assault through the snow toward the town. TEPSICK and I thought that they might not be much in the town and that the Germans had dug in to the west of the town with most of the machine guns. That seemed particularly reasonable since we had not received any machine gun fires since we reached the point directly in line with the town at the haystacks.
The snow was deep and it would not have been easy to assault. Lieutenant CHRISTIAN, a strong and brave officer wasn’t about to risk the company under these circumstances because he knew by then Captain McPHEETERS had been killed.
Suddenly the shelling intensified as we saw some other American troops moving towards us from our right rear coming up from a little valley. We decided to move our men down the hill about 10-15 yards to take some cover by what I would call ledges and some other curbs and hedgerows. These were ridges cutting to the side of the hill with little wooden fences on the top. Ledges running parallel to the spine of the hill by Fosse running east-west. The ledges I took my squad to was only about 20-30 yards from where they had lying in the snow. We had to slide through the fence to get behind the ledge. I was the last man through and I was hit by a shell fragment in my left leg. By that time I had also received a small puncture wound in my left arm which was not bandaged but my knee wound was not good. Shells were screaming overhead and PFC Emilio INTRIERI, my gunner, had a bad luck, he was hit squarely with an artillery shell which ripped him apart just about as we went to this ledge. The last two men killed were, two close comrades, PFC HARRIS and PFC BROWN when an artillery shell landed between them.
I managed to get to point where they were loading wounded onto jeeps to go back to Regimental Headquarter (HQ). Lieutenant CHRISTIAN went along with me as he received a bad head wound. When I get to the HQ’s aid station area I saw wounded and dead lying all over the ground from this attack. I was told that C company of our regiment had a terrible fight at Reharmont and had heavy casualties there. Lieutenant Colonel KRAUSE was then Executive Officer and second in command of our regiment, he was pretty sad and had misty eyes to see so many men dead and wounded. And the snow, the sleet keep coming down. I was put in an ambulance headed back to Liège and I was able to trudge around a little bit and I had a bandage covering my knee. At that time, I had some morphine, so it was not too bad and I was able to start thinking about the attack after I climbed into the front seat beside the driver. On the road back to Liège I saw every kind of equipment that ever been made in America from trucks, to jeeps, to tanks, to antitank guns all moving towards the front. I had a sort of despair about how we were going to get back to the Salm river with so few people at the front trying to fight as we were. Then, I realized all this tremendous power moving behind the front would keep going ahead, on and on.
Bronze plaque that can be seen on the memorial at Fosse.
I had concerns then and I still have now. They might be called the reflections I seem to develop about how things were set up and running, how things should have been done, what things were done. At that time – as I expressed in writings – I thought about:
Why in the name of heaven Montgomery had moved us out of a position we could hold for days at Rochelinval on the Salm River. Later in January 1945, we had to attack to regain the ground we gave up, in doing so, loosing thirteen good men out of about one hundred men and officers, killed in two hours, one day at Fosse on January 03, 1945; why didn’t we have at least done to the company level a better intelligence from a proper reconnaissance which would have found the machine guns and guns setup and so forth of what was at Fosse; why with our numerical superiority, the 505th PIR on the right and the 551st PIB and the 517th PRCT on the left of Fosse, why didn’t we just bypass the town and let the reserve units simply make it die, which is probably the best question in terms of military tactics.
In later times, I had somewhat questions in hearing about the 551st PIB attack on Rochelinval. It was poorly planned and executed but most of all, by orders from the division staff simply to take the town of Rochelinval. The battalion reconnaissance had found there were some pretty strong gun positions there, and they would be more going up terrible hills and cross difficult fields to enter the town. Why?? It would have been easy for the 551st to go along the right side of Rochelinval down to the river and be behind the strong point of the 62nd Volksgrenadiere Division and cut them off. I guess, there was a desire coming from WWI army philosophy that we were to sweep everything before us.
In any event, I had another operation on my knee wound at the 164th General Hospital way back at La Haye du Puits in Normandy, I was back with my outfit in late February. At that time, it was on the Ruhr river still fighting.
By William H. TUCKER, Massachussetts, February 2003.
Other publication by William H. TUCKER
- D-Day: Thirty-Five Days in Normandy - Reflections of a Paratrooper (2003)
- Parachute Soldier's Post War Odyssey
- Parachute Soldier (First Edition 1994, 2nd
Revised Edition 1995)
- Put on Your Boots and Parachutes, co-
authored with British author Derek Wills
Created : August 15, 2005
Updated : January 03, 2012
Copyright © 2001-2012 William H. TUCKER & Eddy LAMBERTY
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