36th Division in World War II

"LOST BATTALION"

On October 20 the 142nd Infantry, by extending its already widely dispersed battalions, began relieving the 141st from the sector south of Herpelmont. After only sufficient time for badly needed showers, the Alamo regiment, moving by night, was assembled near Belmont by the 23rd and started reconnaissance for the attack. Except for terrain the task did not appear to be too difficult. The ridge over which the attack was to go was some seven kilometers long but only about two-and-one-half wide. More than a thousand feet above the valley floor, its steep sides were cut by numerous deep gullies. The entire ridge was heavily wooded and badly overgrown. No roads of any kind existed, only one trail. Movement then would have to be in a column of files. The ridge pointed directly into the German position. When it had been taken the 36th would surround on three sides the German Corps mountain position east of the Valogne River.

The order to launch the attack came late on October 23. Early next morning the 1st Battalion, 141st, started its trek up the mountain. The 3rd Battalion moved on another trail to the north to protect the left flank. The attack went well, German opposition was quickly overcome and by late afternoon the head of the column had gone seven kilometers and reached its objective.

Then came the counterattack. Striking from both sides the Germans succeeded in severing the thin column. Companies A and B, a part of Company C and a platoon of Company D were cut off from the Battalion Commander and the remainder of the battalion. The only communication existing between the forward part of the battalion and Regiment was through the radio of 1st Lieutenant Erwin Blonder, Forward Observer of the 131st Field Artillery, with Company A.

The 2nd Battalion was brought up that night and launched against the hostile positions on the left of the trail but found itself blocked by superior forces east of Biffontaine. For two days and nights the regiment fought desperately to push its way through, but the enemy, aided by the rough terrain, held the men off. The defense had every advantage: German artillery pounded the ridge unceasingly with devastating effect on the attackers. In covered foxholes themselves, the enemy suffered little from our artillery, the delivery of which was exceedingly difficult because of the denseness of the forest. On October 25 the 2nd Battalion of the 442nd, which had come out of the line only the day before, was committed to protect the left flank and to permit the 3rd Battalion, 141st, to move over toward the "lost" battalion. On October 26 the remainder of the Nisei regiment was committed to force a passage down the main trail while the 2nd Battalion, 141st, kept pushing to the right.

Meanwhile the beleaguered force held on. It was completely surrounded and heavily bombarded by the enemy artillery. Of a combat patrol of forty men sent out to get through to our line, only five returned. Lt. Blonder, to conserve his radio batteries, communicated with Regiment only twice a day. For three more long days, the 100th and 3rd Battalions, 442nd, struggled along the trail. The Germans had to be dug out by bayonet.

The crisis came late on the 29th when a furious counter-attack was beaten off by the 3rd Battalion, 442nd. Early next day the Nisei broke through. The 211 surviving brave men, who had withstood a seven-day siege without food or water and with little ammunition, had been rescued by their courageous comrades of the 442nd, whose companies in many cases had shrunk to 40 or 50 men. No greater example of fortitude and courage was shown in this war.

The Battalion took its objective and moved past the elbow of the hill.

Discovering that they were cut off, three officers conferred.

Knives were used to fell trees because axes brought German bullets.

P-47's dive-bombed the battalion with food, water and medicine.

The Germans watched and picked-up the supplies first.

The 141st fought to recover the food.

 

Fifty-eight men went out on patrol to make contact; five came back.
On the seventh day a Japanese-American of the 442nd broke through.

 

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