Travis Brown 1997 Travis Brown 1944

This is a story by Travis Brown and the Hogan 400

TRAVIS M. BROWN, SR. - MAJOR - ARMOR- USAR (RET)
NOTES FROM MY MEMORY OF A CHAPTER OF HISTORY.
TASK FORCE HOGAN AND THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE.

1. THE MOVE.

The Third Armored Division was flexing its muscles on the 19th of December 1944. This Spearhead Division of the First United States Army had enjoyed unbelievable success as a fighting unit, and while the price paid was high, the Division was all set for the final assault on what We had been lead to believe was a beaten Nazi fighting machine. The G-2 reports told of how the German morale was low; how they were about out of all the necessities that make up a good war machine, and that they would be duck soup any day. We took all of this with a grain of salt, especially since the past few nights they had been flying missions in our rest area, and had dropped quite a few anti-personnel bombs. Then the news came. The Germans had broken through on a front in Belgium, and had enjoyed great Initial success. We were to make, a forced march to the area, and help to blunt this offensive initiated by the Germans. Task Force Hogan was composed of the Third Battalion of the Thirty Third-Armored Regiment, and was assigned to Combat Command Reserve commanded by Colonel Robert Howze, one of the very fine combat Commanders of the Third Armored. Col.Howze's Third Battalion of the Thirty Sixth Armored Infantry Regiment was a team member of Task Force Hogan. The night of December 20,1944 was the beginning of a period that we would long remember. The units of the Third Armored were not accustom, to moving in a backward position, but that night backtracked over some very familiar territory. Occasionally a Buzz Bomb would move overhead on it's way to the Leige Area. The V-1 which was the forerunner of the larger V-2 rocket was not an accurate weapon and now and then the motor would cut out, and one would land in the proximity of our march. Confusion would be the best term to describe the situation that existed on that night of December 20. We knew that the Germans had enjoyed some success with what We believed to be a limited counter attack against some very green American forces, who had shortly before arrived from the States, and were untried in combat; but why was it necessary to make this move. over a great distance for what would probably be n limited action? We were to soon learn what the term the "FOG OF WAR" really meant. Early the morning of December 21 we arrived at a point near the, small village of Hotten in Belgium. The tanks and. other vehicles were gassed up and Col. Howze was waiting with orders to move out. Task Force Hogan was one of three Task Forces of CCR, and our mission was to move out as a Reconnaissance force on secondary roads to locate the enemy, and if successful in our mission to proceed to the village of Houffalize, located just North of Bastogne. Our movements proceeded on a line on the extreme right of the Division area, and we encountered very little resistance as we moved along, although we could hear the sounds of heavy fighting on our left. We later learned that our, "H" company, which had been attached to another Task Force, had become engaged and suffered heavy losses in that area.

 

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No one realized it at the time, but we were actually the only forces standing in the way of a complete German breakthrough to the Meuse River. Late in the afternoon of December 21 We began to pass numerous vehicles that had been abandoned by personnel of the 106th Infantry Division as they had been overrun and withdrew in the face of the tremendous onslaught by the enemy. We had passed through the beautiful little resort town of LaRoche late in the afternoon when the lead vehicles encountered a strong German Roadblock. We were now about 20 miles on the way to our objective and at this point there was no way to maneuver around the opposition. The Ourthe River was on the right, and very steep hills ascended from the road on the left. Our reconnaissance platoon Sergeant, Shorty Wright, came up with information from Clark Worrell the Recon Platoon Lt.; that LaRoche offered good cover, and was easy to defend, so Col. Hogan made the decision that we would set up our defense for the night.

2. THE FOG OF WAR.

LaRoche was a beautiful summer resort town built on the banks of the Ourthe River. There were several resort hotels on the banks of the river, and one of these was selected as a good location for our task Force Command Post. The unit was pulled back. Security was set-up, and We'proceeded to establish our headquarters in the hotel. When the Germans had broken through, the troops who previously held the town had withdrawn hurriedly leaving behind most of their equipment; the thing that was most interesting to our people were the packages from home that were scattered around, the hotel; cigarettes, Fruit cakes, and various packages from home. These were promptly "Liberated", and a good many found their way to the rear seat of the Colonel's Peep. We knew very little of the situation around u4 at this time; We did know that We were no out of FM voice contact with our Combat Command Headquarters sand no messages were relay to us that evening. Everything was buttoned down, the situation was under control, or at least we thought so, and Task Force Logan was prepared to move out the next morning to continue our mission. Suddenly Sgt. Wright appeared with a Lieut.Colonel in tow from one of the outfits who had been overrun. "Where in the world did you come from?" was the question put to Col. Hogan. We explained to him about our mission. "Are you people crazy? Don't you realize that you are cut off? The whole Germany Army is all around this place". "Well" said Col.Hogqn. "Here we are, and we have a good bit of firepower. If they want to come on in and run us out, We are ready for them". However, Col. Hogan told Sgt. Farl Godwin to continue to try to raise CCR Command on the key CW'radio. Sgt. Godwin finally made contact, and came in with the order that Col. Hogan was to report back to Combat Command Headquarters the first thing the next morning for further orders. Major William Walker was placed in Command of the task force, and, because of the stories We had heard from the Colonel who had wandered in the night before we formed a combat patrol to make the run back. Three Peeps were readied. Clark Worrell and Phil DeOrlo, Orderly, occupied the first vehicle, Gast, The Colonel's driver, Sam, and myself were in the second, and Capt. Tel Gardon and two other men brought up the rear. You look back on these occasions and it is funny what you remember. The weather was getting bitter cold, and Sam Hogan and I started off that day with practically the same apparel Long John underwear, OD pants and Shirt, combat suits, acquired somewhere along the way.heavy field coat, Paratrooper boots, and fur lined British flying boots that we had acquired somewhere along the way.
 

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The patrol moved out back along the route we had come the previous day. We hadn't gone too far before a G.I. stepped out in the road and stopped us."Where in the hell 'do you think you are going? He asked Worrell. Clark explained our mission and, back came the reply; you had better go like a bat out of hell, because they are rolling hand grenades down on the road just a little way further on."Okay", said Clark we will be careful". We managed to get by that situation without any serious mishap, and proceeded on without too much trouble, for a couple of miles. There was a hairpin turn in the road, as we came around the curve, We saw two Third armored half -Tracks up ahead a little ways. There was a group of men standing around eating; then suddenly Clark waved and yelled "Backup". The men ahead, most of who were dressed in American uniforms were running to the half-tracks and the 50-caliper machine gun mounts. We didn't know it, but we had collided with the tail end of Lt. Gen. Krugers Panzer Corps which vas moving on Hotten, and a battle with the rear area troops. The ". Americans" We saw in front of us were the troops of Otto Skorzeny, who had been brilliantly trained and disguised as Americans, We were attempting to turn around as they opened fire on us. Our vehicle hit a tree, and, realizing the situation, We must have all hit the ground. Together and ran into the woods to our right. Ted Gardon had managed to get his Peep turned around and. disappeared around the curve. The rounds from the 50 calipers were hitting the trees around us. Then we ran out of woods. There was only a strip of trees along the road and we found ourselves staring at a large field about 500 yards across. As, We ran, Sam and I were pealing off the heavy coats and trying to get rid of the flying boots, under which. of all things were pare trooper boots The two things the Germans hated most were tank people and para- troopers. The Germans stopped. In the edge of the woods and opened fire with their machine guns and rifles; They must not have been experts because for some reason no of us were hit as we ran zig zagged. Worrell and the two others had reached the other side of the field and disappeared, before Sam and I managed to get there. Then we finally made it; there was a small cliff with about a 30-foot drop down to a valley that a dirt road ran through. the small Cliff was overhanging so over we went and almost landed on top of Clark Worrell, Gast and Derio. We were out of wind so flattened ourselves against the underside-'of the where it overhung and waited. A patrol of the Germans came on across the field and stood on the edge of the cliff over us evidently discussing where We had gone (None of us understood German very well). We figured 'that they decided that We had made it across the next clearing to the Forest about 75 yards away, because we heard their footsteps going away. We waited several minutes, then Worell and. myself made a dash for the woods. We could then see over the cliff, Seeing no one We signaled Sam and the others to come on over. We went on into the forest, which was very thick at this point about 100 yards and collapsed and none too soon. A large patrol of Germans on foot and motorcycles returned and began patrolling the area and the road. For some reason they did not come into the forest. Sam and I were the only ones who smoked and We lit up. Worrell reminded us that we seem to be sending smoke signals. although there would have been no way to see the smoke from the road in the dense forest. We waited in that spot most of the remainder of the day until we figured the Germans had given up the search for us. We knew that Ed Cardon must have gotten back to the Task Force with the news of what happened, so we decided to try to get back through. We followed the ridge line through the forest in patrol style, and eventually through a break in the foliage We spotted a church steeple. This would probably be in the village of Beffee that we had passed through that morning. It was getting dusk an we cautiously made our way toward the edge of the forest. Suddenly we heard the sound of a shovel digging in the frozen ground. We were hoping that this would be some of our people digging in. Then not more than fifty yards, away came the sound of a voice: (Hans?) (Ya'); (vas habin sie?) (What have you): (ein panzarfaust) (bazooka). We had run into another blind alley and it was obvious we couldn't stay there, Sam

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crawled over to Clark and I and asked our opinion on what We should do. We decided that He would take the other two and try to make his way back to the area we had left that afternoon, and we would delay and come along later and meet them so our movement would not be noticed. They made quite a lot of noise as they crawled away; or at least under the circumstance, we thought so. Worrell and I waited about 20 mintues, then crawled back a ways before we dared stand erect. It was dark and really getting colder. We made our way back to approximately where we had been that afternoon, or it least thought we had. We whispered as loud as we dared "H0GAN"and no answer. We searched. For about an hour with no results, and assumed that the others had probably been captured by a patrol. We also were becoming a little confused as to direction. We didn't know it at the time but Hogan also figured we had been captured, and he and the others, somehow made it around Beffe and managed. to get back to the Task Force, which had been moved by Walker to the village of Marcouray. Worrel and I elected that We would try to go North, and possibly get back to friendly troops. The only directional device We had was an Illuminated German dial compass that Worrell had, so with him as navigator we started North.

3. THE TWO PHANTOMS

I looked at my Watch. It was 1 A.M. We had been wondering around for several hours and. changed direction each time we thought we were running into trouble . You're sixth sense seems to work at a time like that. We left the woods and made our way across a field. WE continually thought we saw the shape of vehicles, but guessed that our eyes were playing tricks on us. We once again came to the edge of the Ardennes forest, made our way Into the trees, and decided we would try to sleep for a bit. This was almost Impossible, because now the sleet and snow had started to come down hard, but we got up against the trunk of a tree and fell into a fitful slumber brought on by shear exhaustion. Soon the sound of motors awaked us. As we raised up we pulled away from the ground because our jackets were frozen to it. We crept to the edge of the trees and looked out across the field we had crossed in the inky blackness a few hours before. It was just past dawn. We evidental1 had walked right through the middle of the German assembly area. They were moving out, and we assumed they must have again been heading for Hotten. Worrell and. I went the other way, now healing West. We came to the edge of the forest Again and were looking across at a valley. At the foot of the valley approximately 1/2 mile away, we saw a village. Just on our side of the village was the river, and we knew this must be the Ourthe that ran on down through LaRoche. We didn't see any sign of movement; not even civilians, but there was smoke coming from a chimney at a house just the other side of the road. We saw a footbridge over the river down to our right. and decided to move out using all the cover possible. We made it across the river, up to the house, and not seeing any vehicles, knocked on the door. The door opened and there was a Belgium family in the house. We explained In French as best we could, that we were not Germans but Americans trying to get back to our lines. One of them spoke reasonably good English and told us that they knew the Americans were In the town of Marche, and one of' the men told us he would go with us and show the way. He had his bicycle, and as we left the house we heard the sound of vehicles up the road. Not thinking we had been spotted. We went behind the house and waited. They had spotted us, however, and pulled off the road a few housed down. There was a fence about seven feet high on our left and we started for it. The Germans open fire just as I reached the strand of barbed wire on top. Clark was already over. I remember in a flash seeing our Begium friend on the ground near the fence. We never knew whether he was hit, or not. The bullets, went though the leg of of my combat suit, and I hit the ground on the other side running. We ran behind a house next, door, then cut up the hill, and managed to reach a cemetery at the top of the hill. We hid behind the tombstones. Once again we were the hunted. They patrolled for about an hour, and as it was just beginning to get dark gave up the hunt. Neither of us mentioned our thoughts to the other but we were in all that hell of combat thought Normandy, both

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having been wounded and returned, and now wondering, weather we would end up as prisoners. We both had decided that we had rather take our chances on getting out or be shot. Our thoughts went back to the house where We were earlier, and what had happened to the family that helped us. We didn't hear anymore shots back there, we hoped the Germans didn't know we had been in the house, and we wondered. what had happened to the man who was with us? We finally left the cemetery. Later we saw a light under a door and approached the house. We were hoping to find another friendly family who would probable give us some food. We both had our forty-fives, and Worrell got back against the wall while I knocked on the door. A blonde fellow in a blue coat opened the door. He looked into the muzzle of a forty-five, and is he raised his hands said "Sacre-Bleu". He thought we were Germans in American uniforms, and had he not uttered French I would have thought he was a German. With his little, English and our little French, we managed. to set him straight and he went with us and showed us the road to Marche. All the time telling us in halted English that there was no way we would get through. It had stopped snowing. There was a bright moon. It reminded me of HoIloween. because every tree looke4 as though something was sitting in it. We passed a house back from the road. Vehicles were all around us. We knew we were passing a German command post, so we left the road, and skirted. the house so we would not be challenged. We Came to a bridge, and knew we once again had reached the Ourthe river. There was a vehicle in the middle of the bridge. We approached it cautiously; it was an American jeep. There was a dead man under the wheel. We didn't know what to do, but crept across the bridge, came to a field and saw vehicles, We waited and listened hoping to hear an American vehicle but heard nothing; it was after midnight. We went back across the bridge,found a barn, climbed up in the loft and buried ourselves under some hay and went fastto sleep. We were awakened to the sound of all hell breaking loose. Artillery was landing all around and we knew the barn would go any minute. This had to be ours and was coming from the direction where we were the night before listening for a friendly voice. We didn't know it then but had. been on the side of an American troop concentration and went back across the bridge away from it. We took off for the woods. Germans were running in the other direction Clark said "I'll be damned we slept with them last night." Our feet were numb and. We finally found a wood cache that was left by the Belgium's where they had. gathered wood and 1 knew it was arranged so it was hollow Inside. In we went, removed our bouts and started massaging our feet. Boy, were we hungry, cold and just a little frustrated. It dawned on us it was Christmas Eve and we wondered what had happened to the Task Force. There was no way for us to know, but Hogan and the others (approximately 400 men and vehicles men and vehicles were in the village of Marcouray surrounded by the Germans, however they were able to set up a defense for the town. Attempts had been made to supply them by air but most of the drop failed to drop in the area. 4 THE ESCAPE. We were beginning to wonder how long this game of hide and seek we were playing would be successful. So many times we had barely escaped, and probably the fact that Skornzey's men who had dressed in American were in the area allowed us to get by several times with the Germans thinking, we were possibly some of them. We will never know. Clark and 1 had another conference, and decided that once again we had better get underway. We could see from the edge of the forest, a road about 1000 yards away

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and could see vehicles moving up and down the road. We thought that some of the tanks we saw were ours, but not knowing how much of our equipment had been captured by the Germans, didn't want to risk making our way toward that road. Later that afternoon, as we made our way through the forest, we heard the sound of vehicles moving, on a road ahead. We moved very carefully until we were only a few feet from the road ahead. Which was in a depression just below us. We stopped and used the cover of the forest to remain out of sight. A large column of German tanks and half-tracks were moving on the road just below us. We could have thrown a rock and hit them. The Germans were laughing and enjoying themselves as they moved down the road, never dreaming four pairs of eyes were watching their every move. Finally the column went around a curve and we decided to mike a dash across the the road in the northern direction, hopeing once again we could cross the clearing without being seen. We made it to the other side into the dense forest and continued to move North. Dusk arrived and it was bitter cold but clear. It had stopped snowing, and the snow crunched under our feet. My thoughts were of home and wondering if they had Heard anything on the news of our situation. Let's hope not, because we knew what was happening to us and they had the worry of wondering. Frances would be trying to get Brownie toget Brownie to bed so Santa would come. He was now six years old. Clark was thinking of the bride he had married, only a month before going overseas. We hadn't had any food for three and a half days, and all we could think of was what a lousy war it was. We struggled up a steed hill and still nothing around us but forest and the sounds of War in the distance. Suddenly Clark sat down and said (Oh what's the use, we aren't going to get out of here). All I could think to say was (Clark don't you want to see Raedeen again?) That got him up and we moved on still traveling north. After about an hour we came to the edge of the forest. The moon was bright as day and reflected from the snow. We looked across a vast open area; not even a house in sight. I turned to Clark; (Clark, I'm tire of all this whispering. Let's take off across that open area, and the next house we find, we are going in and get something to eat, Germans or no Germans). We knew our voices were carrying across the open area, But we no longer cared. (Let's go Brownie); this from Clark, so we moved out. We had probably gone about 1000 yards and suddenly a voice cracked out."HALT".We halted. Again the voice "HALT". We answered, "O.K-We're halted". We weren't surewho had challenged us because the German and American word was very similar. Then those terrible words; "What's the pass word? (We answered )We don't know the pass word. We are officers from the Third Armored Division, and we have been cut off in there for four days; take us to your company commander". With those words a very big man rose up out the ditch ahead of us and said (That's exactly what we are going to do; put your hands on top of your head". A little Sergeant came up and said" if you really are Americans you will be OK, but we don't know about you.) "When you name out of the forest were tracking you with a 50 caliber machine gun German patrols, have been coming out of the forest all night, and we have orders to shoot the next thing that moved over there, and we were ready to let you have it when we heard your voices; one voice was talking with a southern accent, and we figured no German could use that inflection, so we decided to let you come on because We could ki11 you at any time." They put us in the back of a jeep and I learned that the little Sergeant was from Gastonia They got us back to their Company CP and fed us. That had to be some of the best food we had ever tasted, in spite of the fact that it was canned. From there we were moved back to the Battalion HQ, and finally our identity was established.

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The remainder of the Task Force destroyed their vehicles and came out the next day. Only one man was lost on the way out. We sure were glad to see them and they us, because each thought the other was lost. We had been the hunted: the past several days showed us what it was like to be the Hunted. Now once again, we would go about the business of ending the war as soon as possible.

So here ends our tale.       

THE END

Travis M.Brown,Sr.
Major, Armor
USAR (Ret)

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