The Jersey Essex Troop: The 38th Cavalry Squadronâ€™s Defense of Monshau
By Lt. Colonel Alfred Shehab (USA-Ret)
By mid-December, 1944, the United States 1st Army had made tremendous advancements since the landings at Normandy not six months earlier. Sitting at one of the easternmost penetrations of the 1st Army was the town of Monshau, Germany, of which the 38th Cavalry Squadron, 102 Cavalry Group (The Jersey Essex Troop) was assigned to defend. The defensive line extended from just south of the town, northwest, then north along the Mutzenich Ridge to the train station on the north side of the village of Konzen. It was a very large sector, giving the squadron commander, Lt. Col. Robert Oâ€™Brien, no choice but to employ the entire strength of the squadron in the line, leaving no reserve. It was here that I commanded the 3rd platoon of B Troop, now numbering about 30 men, occupying a front about 1300 yards in front of Konzen.
Through the months of November and December, the sector was relatively quiet except for ceaseless and aggressive dismounted patrols, which gave us patrol dominance. The usual clashes with enemy patrols were frequent and deadly. I had found a hunting lodge at the edge of the woods, and there established my command post from which to base our patrols. The short spurts of battle continued through the first weeks of December, as further advancements were slowed by the gasoline shortage the entire Army was experiencing. Sometimes, at night, a few of us would slip into Konzen and leave copies of The Stars and Stripes just to let the Jerries know we were there. I must have been an absolute fool! But, when youâ€™re young, you do things that you look back on and wonder how you survived them. At the time it was just something to do to pass the time and mess with the enemyâ€™s head.
On the night of the 15th of December, 1944, we heard a huge number of airplanes flying overhead. Running outside to see what was happening, I saw loads of people dropping. The Jerries had dropped a bunch of paratroopers. Standing outside the hunting lodge that was now my command post, I grabbed an M-1 rifle and started shooting at them. At the same time, our 50 calibers mounted on armored cars opened up, spraying the sky with fire. Receiving an order from command to take out this battalion of paratroopers, my driver and I headed out into the woods to see what we could find. We picked up a couple of them, each of whom was carrying a bottle of rum. After hearing this, I had difficulty keeping my lads in. Now they all wanted to go out and capture paratroopers!
The next morning, December 16, at 5:30, which is an un-godly hour to start anything, much less a war, the Germans opened up with an intense barrage of artillery, mortar, and rocket fire. We holed up in our defenses, hoping not to suffer a direct hit. Communications had been nearly severed, and there was a confusion as to what exactly was happening. In that, I was lucky in a sense. From what I understand, at headquarters, they had become rather distressed as to what was going on. They were actually worried. But we young lieutenants didnâ€™t know any better. To us, it was just another fight. It was not until later in life when I started reading the history of this thing that I got frightened about what went on.
A few hours later, enemy paratroopers became active behind our lines. A large scale assault was developing on the B Troop front, with a platoon of Jerries attacking our rear. I was forced to draw on my already lightly held main line and send a combat patrol to ward off the German attack. Entering the forest, my men flanked the Germans and drove them south, killing several and taking two as prisoners. Still, the enemy refused to relent, and escalated its attacks against our thinly defended position.
The attacks continued for the next few days, and though a number of observation posts were overrun, we had held out. At one point, one of my lads came running in and said, â€œLieutenant, I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on behind us, but boy, there is something out there!â€ At that, I went out, and sure enough, heard a lot of noise coming from the woods. Crouching behind a tree, I hollered, â€œWhoâ€™s there?â€ A voice came back, â€œWell, who the hell are you?â€ So I replied, â€œWell, who the hell are you?â€ We finally made a deal. We would each get an officer and meet him in an open space. It turns out it was the 49th Infantry, which had sent two companies from about twenty miles up the road. They had been told that we were wiped out. At that, they moved in and relieved the 30 men I had, assuring that the Germans would never gain control of Monshau. For its defense of Monshau, the 38th Cavalry Squadron received the Presidential Unit Citation.