Battle for Merzenhausen, Germany
119th 2nd Battalion w/ 2nd AD
Map of area...left click to enlarge
From the 119th history book:
I have personally received two stories on this battle, both from members of G Company, 119th Infantry Regiment. John M. Nolan, VA and Cletus Herrig, IA. Both men joined the company in assigned to 3rd Squad of the 1st Platoon on September 6th near Tournai, Belgium. There were actually eight "green" replacements that joined the squad that day. Along with Nolan and Herrig were: Edward Knocke, Ernie King, David Hedland, Bill Cline, Frank O'Leary and Vic Kwaitkowski. During the attack on Freialdenhoven and Merzenhausen, Hedland and O'Leary would be killed and King, Herrig, Knocke wounded. Nolan would be nearly asphyxiated in a story to follow.
Hedland, the BAR man, was killed as they entered the town of Freialdenhoven, just west of Merzenhausen. Knocke was wounded in an embarrassing spot that the men always had a good laugh about. The death of Hedland really upset the squad and they contemplated going out at night and finding a German to kill for revenge. Reason ruled though...or the fear of being in big trouble with superiors.
Preceding the squad's advance into
Merzenhausen, they were dug in slit trenches about 1/4 mile from the town.
John was the platoon guide...he made sure all men moved forward not backward.
Within the squad was a soldier they called "Pepe"...John J. Pepe. Pepe was
as nervous and lost as a soldier could be. He was always needing a
hand...from nervously needing tobacco to where to go next. But Pepe
had an excuse for his actions..or lack of...he was punch drunk. Pepe had
told Nolan that is 'fighting' name was Mickey O'Day. And as
Gerry Perrett was to discover many years later, Pepe was an
ex-prize fighter. Scanned is a letter Gerry sent to John with his
As you can see from the letter Pepe was an old man in the squad. And he told John that when he came home from a fight, he told his wife he fell off his bike. She never caught on!! Back to the slit trenches; knowing they were to attack with bayonets fixed, there lay Pepe in his trench on his back in the rain. Well they did get Pepe up and going. As the entered the town they came upon a orchard held by German troops. This orchard can be found on the map just to the west of the main southern intersection of Merzenhausen. When these troops saw the men attacking with bayonets they quickly gave up. As it turned out these were conscripted Poles. To the relief of John and the rest of the squad, Pepe was given the task of walking these 8 Polish POWs back to the cage. Pepe was never heard of again. We are to assume Pepe with his M-1 following the prisoners got back OK. The 3rd Squad lead the American advance down main street Merzenhausen...basically the only street. As they stepped into the street and turned to walk down it, a German Panther, (machine guns blazing away) with supporting infantry was coming right at them. O'Leary was killed in the street but King and Herrig quickly ducked into an open door and down the basement...both of the men were wounded. Nolan and the rest ran south between houses. Nolan located a bazooka team and set it up in an opening between two house, facing the street. The opening was about 4 foot wide and the patiently waited for the German tank to move by the opening. German tanks were notoriously quiet...hard to hear in all the noise of battle. It was about a 20/30 ft. shot. But as the tanked passed the bazooka would not fire. Apparently the battery was dead. There is no question on Nolan's mind that one shot would have made the tank a burning inferno. So they had to hightailed it out of there. This action is mentioned in the 119th history above. Back to Herrig and the other men hiding in the house basement. Herrig had been hit in the left leg but not seriously. However, King had been hit in the groin and was in much worse shape. Herrig could only think that this was it....the end...there was not getting out of this situation. It was going to be either death or POW. As they hid in the basement Germans entered the house above. They stayed the entire night upstairs. The Americans below had to be as quiet as they had ever been in their life. King was in fear of bleeding to death and thought maybe they should just surrender. But even with the German guards as they exchanged duty, shining they fancy German flashlights down the basement stairs, they were not discovered. But each long hour, minute, Herrig expected to hear a German hand grenade come rolling down the stairs. And on top of all this, a German tank pulled up to close to the house and the basement wall just about caved in on the men!!! The next morning the men heard voices upstairs and to their utter joy, they were American. The men were hauled out of the basement and taken back to the CP for dinner. And what a dinner it was!! The day was Thanksgiving!! A Thanksgiving feast Cletus Herrig will NEVER forget and forever be thankful for.
Please find email from Bob Fiorentino, nephew of Pepe....what a SMALL world:
John Nolan was very nearly asphyxiated Nov. 24th. German civilians or soldiers had built many 'homemade' bunkers on the plains of the Roer River. These were most likely shelter from artillery and mortar fire. They were big enough for 4 or 5 men. They were dug into the earth, covered with timbers, then a layer of straw, another perpendicular layer of timbers and finally covered with dirt. The company had been driven out of Merzenhausen and was dug in on the fields surrounding. The weather being terrible (wet and muddy)...M-1 rifles were in much need of cleaning. Men were rotated back to this bunker to clean their weapons. Once inside the canvas 'door' was closed to completely block any light escaping to give away their position. A bayonet was stuck in the dirt wall and candles placed upon them for light. A sound wire phone had been placed in the bunker...which would save the men's lives. About 2 or 3 in the morning all the men present in the bunker fell asleep. One of the candles set the damp straw on a smoldering fire. The fire flat out sucked up almost all of the oxygen in the bunker. Nolan happened to awake but could barely move because of lack of oxygen. He was able to reach the headset of the phone and call for help. All men survived but Nolan was taken to a field hospital to recover. He was back to the company in a week. His hospital stay was not without incidence. As Nolan received new long johns...the new ones would go on first and then the old ones. When he entered the hospital, he was up to three layers. Of course he had to take them off and when leaving was given only one pair. He was not at all happy about this development!!
Company G on Nov. 22nd entering Freialdenhoven
had a strength of:
On Nov. 24th;
Another great story about this battle can be found in an article written by Fred C. Brems of Company F, 66th Armd Regiment, 2nd Armored Division. Special thanks to Mr. Brems for sharing his article with this website:
Some additional information from Gerry Perrett:
Dear Mr. Nolan,I was doing a little digging around and I think I may have something which will help you verify Mr. Brem's account involving the five tanks. It's from The United States Army in World War II: The European Theater of Operations-The Siegfried Line Campaign by Charles B. MacDonald. (Deputy Chief Historian of the U.S. Army)According to this account, there were five British tanks there, however, they weren't all Crocodiles. Three were Crocs and two were unmodified Churchills. The excerpt follows:
"...In the zone of the 2d Armored Division, German reinforcements had not yet arrived, but the armor had to deal with contingents of the 246th Division led by a capable battalion commander, the same man who earlier had denied Setterich for so long. The going looked easy at first as a task force composed of a battalion of the 66th Armored Regiment, an attached battalion of the 119th Infantry, and two Churchill and three Crocodile tanks made a two-pronged attack against the village of Merzenhausen. First sight of the flame-throwing Crocodiles produced white flags in abundance. Then German tanks knocked out the Crocodiles. From that point, the going was rough... "
The Siegfried Line Campaign, Charles B. MacDonald. p560
Is it possible that in the heat of battle, the Churchills could have been mistaken for Crocodiles? (with the exception of the trailer, they look almost identical)
I hope this helps
Additional scans:....mostly from the 2nd Armor Division perspective: