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“there Was Combat Enough For Everyone …”

March 2023
2min read

General James M. Gavin’s “Bloody Huertgen: The Battle That Should Never Have Been Fought” (December, 1979) inspired a letter from Dominic F. O’Donnell of Fairfax, Virginia:

“General Gavin states that the town of Schmidt was taken by the 82nd Airborne Division. This is not true. I was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 310th Infantry, 78th Division, and the 3rd Battalion was the combat unit that attacked and captured the town of Schmidt.… I was there, and remember many events that took place on that memorable occasion. One is that I ran out of bazooka ammunition trying to blow the doors off a concrete bunker blocking our approach to Schmidt. …

“General Gavin also says, as the article title would imply, that this [Huertgen] was a battle that should never have been fought. This conclusion, coming from a senior officer and division commander during the period, surprises me, to say the least. The battle was not fought in order to capture a few small towns in the Huertgen Forest area, but to capture and hold the high dams on the Roer River to prevent the Germans from blowing up these dams, which would have caused massive flooding downriver. …”

The reasons why General Gavin thought the forest battle should never have been fought were succinctly outlined in his article: “Obviously, the attack on Schmidt should have been made straight down the ridge from Lammersdorf. Lammersdorf and Schmidt are connected by a paved road, the terrain was a mixture of woods and open farm land—good tank country—and it would have been a much simpler tactical undertaking than crossing the Kail River. The question in my mind was how in the world did they ever get involved in attacking across the Kail River valley in the first place? Why not stick to the high ground, bypassing the Germans in the valley, and then go on to the Roer River? I raised this question with a corps staff officer present, but he brushed it aside.”

As to which unit was responsible for the taking of Schmidt, General Gavin has replied directly to Mr. O’Donnell: “The first effort to seize Schmidt was made by the 28th Infantry Division. It moved out into the attack on November 2, 1944. Meeting unexpected success, it had one battalion in Kommerscheidt and another battalion ‘astride the division objective’ in Schmidt the evening of November 3,1944. The following day a heavy German attack supported by armor drove the battalion out of Schmidt. No successful attempt to retake Schmidt was made until the following February, when the 82nd was ordered to move across the Kail River valley and seize Kommerscheidt and Schmidt. …”

“From the 82nd’s point of view, it contacted members of the 309th Infantry of the 78th Division in Kommerscheidt and then went on to Schmidt. It reported it was in Schmidt, then turned to the northeast, paralleling the Kail River gorge, thus protecting Schmidt from reoccupation by the German forces. We assumed that the 82nd had participated in the taking of Schmidt, but it could well have been the 310th Infantry, since it had been ordered to ‘pass through Schmidt and go on to the dams.’ I was in Schmidt about a day later and there was considerable mixup, quite a bit of German artillery coming in, and during the night a German runner approached the 505th Parachute Infantry Command Post just outside of Schmidt, assuming that it was in German hands. He was shot. The 310th then went on to capture the Schwammenauel Dam, which was one of the really great feats of arms on the Western Front, certainly the greatest in importance to the overall winning of the war.

“When the 82nd reached Schmidt, it assumed that it had captured it, but it was not of great importance to us, since the dams were the important thing and the 78th Division was capturing them. After having come all the way from Sicily with an interminable number of days in combat, it did not seem terribly important to us who actually captured a town as long as we were winning. There was combat enough for everyone, and credit enough, we were sure.”

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