Today is the 76th Anniversary of the Sauer Crossing near Diekirch which took place in the early hours January 18, 1945. On January 18, 1945, the XII Corps made a coordinated attack on the Sauer front. The 5th Infantry Division was tasked with taking the city of Diekirch. Time for the crossing was set at 0300 (H-Hour), and instead of using preparatory artillery, the cover of darkness was used as stealth. The 2nd and 10th Infantry Regiments of the 5th Infantry Division (including elements of the 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th ID) crossed the swollen river West and East of Diekirch, Luxembourg.
Since the crossings of the 10th Infantry Regiment were relatively light compared to the 2nd Infantry Regiment. I’d like focus on the men of the 2nd Infantry Regiment who crossed the river West of Diekirch on both sides of the small village of Ingeldorf. They were supported by the Division’s 7th Engineer Battalion, 50th Field Artillery Battalion and the XII Corps’ C/91st Chemical Mortar Battalion. German elements consisted of the Grenadier Regiment 914 of the 352. Infanterie-Regiment.
On the night of January 17/18, 1945, a temperature of -9 degrees Celcius (16 F). About thirty centimeters of snow covered the regimental sector of the attack. Many men wore snow camouflage suits.
The pre H-hour crossing of K Company was unsuccessful. The Company, upon moving boats down on the stream drew heavy MG fire. During the night, however, the 7th Engineer Bn had got the footbridge constructed over which the 1st Bn was to cross and at 0300 the Bn decided to press the attack even though Ingeldorf was not taken. The 1st Bn crossed without much difficulty, and after securing Hill 328 (Goldknapp Hill), the Battalion attacked and took Erpeldange. At this time , Company K had also come up and attacked Ingeldorf from the west.
The 2nd Battalion’s jump-off was delayed due to the unsuccessful attempt of K Company to secure Ingeldorf. Furthermore, the engineers that were supposed to construct a footbridge in the 2nd battalion area, made several fruitless attempts. Enemy MG and rifle fire from the opposite bank made it impossible for the engineers to continue construction and they withdrew, with some losses. Three men were KIA: Sgt Donald L. Ickes, Leroy R. Thomas and Sigmund W. Ligas. The 2nd battalion now had to cross by boat.
Finally, G Company kicked off with riflemen and machine gunners from F Company providing a wall of covering fire. The engineer crewmen with each assault boat picked up the craft, gave it a push forward on the frozen, snow-covered slope and tobogganed downward, with most the load already in the boat when it hit the water’s edge. G Company proceeded down the slope towards the river in a line of skirmishers, with marching fire, firing all the light weapons in the company.
After crossing, Company G quickly mopped up Ingeldorf and headed for the Battalion’s objective. On reaching the railroad, the assault infantrymen received some well-zeroed enemy artillery and nebelwerfer fire. G Company worked its way along the sloped and draws of Hill 328 up to the Seitert forest and at the end of the day had secured the road leading north out of Diekirch.
The final attack on Diekirch by the 3rd Battalion began at 1400 on the 18th. The capture for the city itself was up to Companies I and K. Company I would spearhead the city from the left, attacking the railway station. Here they came under fire from German small arms and machine guns. Today the railway station still wears the scars of January 18, 1945. To support Company I’s attack, Company K attacked the city from the North West near the city’s cemetery. Company L was brought up later that day to serve as a link between Company I and K. By nightfall, most of the city was in hands of the 5th Infantry division. The next day it was cleared completely.
In total, three men of the 7th Engineer Battalion were Killed in Action on January 18, 1945. Since I don’t have the battalion’s morning reports, I wasn’t able to identify the company in which the three men served. Their names are Sgt Donald L Ickes, Leroy R. Thomas, and Sigmund W. Ligas. (AAR 7th Engineer Bn)
The 1st battalion of the 2nd Regiment crossed in order of Companies A-B-C. Several boats took direct hits from well-aimed German mortar fire causing many men to perish from the shrapnel or due to drowning in the icy waters of the Sauer River.Unfortunately, we don’t have many stories of the men of the 1st Battalion. (Companies A, B, C & D) The battalion made a good crossing, but suffered several casualties.
Company A: None of the men were killed during the assault on January 18, 1945.
Company B: One man was killed in action on January 18, 1945. His name was PFC Lawrence E Davenport. According to his Hospital Admission Card the diagnosis was: “Blast injury (sudden high pressure from air or water)” caused by an artillery shell.
Company C: After crossing the river they took Erpeldange. Three men were killed in action on January 18, 1945. They were Sgt Lawrence H. Slawenwhite, a squad leader, who was struck by a bullet in the abdomen; Pfc John Marcek, a rifleman, who was struck by an artillery shell; Pvt Troy Crapps, a rifleman, also killed by the sudden blast of an artillery shell.
Company D: None of the men were killed during the assault on January 18, 1945. (Source: MR 2nd INF)
The 2nd Battalion crossed east of Ingeldorf and also received small arms fire from the Germans dug in on Goldknap hill. They suffered more casualties than the 1st Battalion.
Staff Sergeant Stanley J. Szymanski, of Company F was a platoon guide and assigned the hazardous mission of leading an element of forces in an assault crossing of the strategic Sauer River. “Fearlessly leading his men in the assault Sergeant Szymanski succeeded in cutting the contcertina wire blocking his company’s advance. Sergeant Szymanski then personally assaulted an enemy automatic weapon position, neutralizing the emplacement and aggressively directed operations that silenced several more enemy strongpoints.” For these actions he was post-humously awarded the Silver Star. Two days later Stanley Szymanski was killed in action with five other men of his Company. (Source: General Order 24, 1945)
Pvt Charles H. Schroder, a B.A.R. man, also in Company F was wounded during the crossing “Like many other soldiers that day, he refused evacuation in order to remain with his company. Lying exposed on the flat open ground between the Sauer River and enemy positions on Goldknap Hill, he maintained a steady stream of fire at the enemy guns that allowed his platoon to maneuver. Constantly exposed, he diverted enemy fire from his platoon until killed by artillery fire.” Pvt Charles Schröder was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (Source: 2nd INF Unit History)
“During the same action, Technician Fifth Grade Calvin J. Randolph, a company aid man (medic) with Company H, learned that there were three wounded soldiers lying where they had fallen on the open front of Gold Knap Hill. Although heavy mortar fire was pounding the area, Randolph entered the danger zone and while shrapnel tore his clothing succeeded in evacuating two of the wounded men. While attempting to rescue the third, Randolph was killed” Technician Fifth Grade Calvin J. Randolph was also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. (Source: 2nd INF Unit History)
PFC George A. Kolesarich, a member of Company E was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on January 18, 1945. “When his platoon leader was severely wounded, and although himself suffering from severe concussion, Private Kolesarich, a platoon runner, without hesitation or thought of personal safety went to the aid of the stricken officer. Oblivous to the intense enemy fire Private Kolesarich skilfully administered medical aid to the wounded officer and then assisted him across the exposed terrain, a distance of two miles, to the aid station, saving the officer’s life. (Source: General Order 23, 1945)
Pfc Michael C. Bilder, a soldier in Company G recalls in his memoirs. ‘We were holed up in different houses’, probably the outskirts of Ingeldorf, ‘watching carefully for enemy movement when we saw three GIs foolishly walking down the middle of the street right toward the house occupied by Sergeant Henry Lipski. Lipski was out of Detroit. He was a good man and well liked. He opened the door and yelled to them “Get off the street, you stupid bastards.” These troops were actually Germans. They opened fire and killed Lipski, instantly putting 20 rounds into him.’
‘The men were stunned by the sight of it, which allowed the Germans to run around the rear of the building. Just then, Sergeant Miller and his 18-year-old runner pulled up around the back in a jeep, and came to stop right in front of the Germans. Miller was returning from HQ with our instructions, and had no clue as to what had just happened’, Bilder recalled. Sgt Edward J. Miller was taken prisoner, but his runner managed to run away. The Germans fired at him, hitting him in the thigh. He made it back safely, but had to be evacuated. The war was over for him.
The 2nd Battalion (Companies E, F, G & H) suffered more casualties than the 1st Battalion.
Company E: Besides some wounded men, Company E lost two men on January 18, 1945. Their names were PFC Thomas P. Murphy, a messenger (MOS: 675) who was hit by a bullet in the eye, probably killing him instantly; and PFC Raul M. Mendez, hit by a bullet in the head.
Company F: Unfortunately I am missing one or two pages of morning reports of Company F for January 18, 1945. However, we know for sure that Charles H. Schroder, whose story we told above, was Killed in Action. He was initialy listed as Missing in Action with three others who survived the war.
Company G: As told from Bilder’s memoirs. Company G lost several men on January 18, 1945. They were 1st LT Marvin E. Shipp, a platoon leader who formerly served with the 35th Infantry Division; T/SGT Henry J. Lipski, platoon Sergeant; PFC Willie Contreras, a rifleman; PVT Henry R. Barnes; PFC Raymond Frackman; and Pvt Auley H. Hancock
Company (Heavy Weapons) H: This company also suffered a couple of casualties, including Calvin J Randolph who we covered before. One man was Killed in Action. his name was PFC Archibald L. Lake, MOS 521, who was hit by a bullet in the neck.
(Source: MR 2nd INF)
The 3rd Battalion (Companies I, K, L & M) was initaly tasked to cover the crossings of the 1st and 2nd Battalion. They were then to cross the Sauer themself to capture and liberate the city of Diekirch. Roland Gaul‘s The Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg: The Southern Flank – Volume II: The Americans, a wonderful account exists of Lt. Col. Robert Connor, former commander of the 3rd Battalion. At about 3:45 AM on January 18, Company I led the crossing for the Battalion and were followed by Companies K and L.
The capture for the city itself was up to Companies I and K. Company I would spearhead the city from the left, attacking the railway station. Here they came under fire from German small arms and machine guns. Today the railway station still wears the scars of January 18, 1945. To support Company I’s attack, Company K attacked the city from the North West near the city’s cemetery. Company L was brought up later that day to serve as a link between Company I and K. By nightfall, most of the city was in hands of the 5th Infantry division. The next day it was cleared completely.
Several men of the 3rd Battalion were killed and lots more were wounded on January 18, 1945.
Company I: Three men payed the highest price. Their names are PFC James E. Reed, a rifleman, hit in the thorax; PFC Leader R. Thaldorf, another rifleman, hit in the head; and 29 year old young father and husband, PFC Donald F. Hiler, also a rifleman, hit in the head.
Company K: Three men of this company werekilled in action. Their names are SGT Louis J. Katern who was hit by a bullet in the neck; Loren E. Turbett, who was hit by a bullet in the back; and Tec 5 George F. Barron, who was hit multiple times in the pelvis and abdomen.
Company L: Tec 4, James D. Sullivan was the only man of Company L to be killed in action this day when a bullet hit him in the face.
Company M (Heavy Weapons): Having almost no casualties, one man of Company M paid the highest price. PFC Clarence S. Hall, a heavy machiner gunner. The cause of his death remains unknown
Unfortunately The 3rd Battalion’s Headquarter’s Company suffered one man Killed in Action. His name was Tec 5 Joseph A. Wilfret, a scout who was hit by a bullet in the thorax.
One man of the Regimental Anti-Tank Company lost his life on January 18, 1945. His name was Pvt Vincent M. Nittiskie, an anti-tank gun crew member. He was killed by shrapnel from an artillery shell.
- Roland Gaul, The Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg: The Southern Flank – Volume II: The Americans
- Michael G. Bilder, A Footsoldier For Patton
- After Action Report 2nd Infantry Regiment
- After Action Report 7th Engineer Combat Battalion
- Unit Journals 2nd Infantry Regiment
- Unit Journals 7th Engineer Combat Battalion
- Morning Reports 2nd Infantry Regiment
- 5th Infantry Division General Orders 1945