Military History, World War II, U.S. Army, ETO





Then Mollica ordered “Fix bayonets!” We began slowly
advancing in a line with leveled bayonets.

Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry

by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr. and William L. Schaible

Welz (excerpt)

The tiny village of Welz is not widely known (except perhaps in local circles for its brewery). For many veterans of the First and Third Battalions, 407th Infantry, however, Welz has an unerasable spot in their memories. The battle there on November 30 and December 1, 1944 was the first time we served as assault troops in a major attack. It also turned out to be the bloodiest days of the war for the Second Platoon.

Our Second Squad especially suffered at Welz. There were eleven men in the squad when we began the attack. At the end of the second day only four of the original eleven were left: Francolini, Baron, DelaO and Dewey R. Smith. Ron Hurley had been killed, four others had been hospitalized with wounds and one had broken down emotionally after the battle and had to be sent to the rear, never to return. The Squad Leader, Mollica, had been pulled out to become the Platoon Sergeant, replacing Radice, who had been killed at the very outset of the attack. There were severe casualties in the other two squads as well, including the death of Charles Saunders during the assault and Joe Amore and Clarence Love on the second day. Love was a replacement who joined us after the first day and was dead a few hours later.

Bravery was commonplace; medals were few. The K Company Commander, Captain Rhodey, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the battle. In the Second Platoon, Jim Harris received the Silver Star and Art VanAtta the Bronze Star for Valor for their special deeds in the capture of Welz. Let it be recorded here, however, that with the surprising exception of Sgt. Radice, every member of the Second Platoon conducted himself worthily in the attack.

The official history of the 102nd Infantry Division, put together months later in division headquarters by writers who had not experienced the fighting, makes the capture of Welz sound like a cheap victory. It is true that the objective was quickly taken and that casualties, reckoned only as a percentage of the division’s strength, were acceptable, even “light.” And, if one is looking only at the strategic picture, what more need be said?

The regimental historians were a bit more descriptive of the day’s battle. Their account, on page 31 of A Combat Record of the 407th Infantry Regiment, follows.
Following a preliminary artillery barrage, the attack was launched at 1030 on November 30, 1944. Welz, a well fortified and strongly defended town, forced the First and Third Battalions to go the limit before victory was gained. Late in the afternoon, however, found the majority of the troops on the other side of the town, but many of the men were still engaged in fire fights within the town itself. The Germans were determined to make every foot of our advance costly.

These paragraphs open Chapter 6 of Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry. Buy this book today to read the entire first-person account of Company K’s journey from basic training, through the European Theater of Operations, and (for some, at least) home again.

Copyright © 1997, 2008 by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr.