I&R Platoons in Action During WWII
The Incredible Patrol
In October, 1944, the 101st Airborne Division was in Holland, after the failure of "Operation Market-Garden," on what became known as "The Island." The German forces were mostly to the North of the Lower Rhine, with good observation of the American troops on the Southern bank of the river. At the time, little was known of the exact disposition of German forces across the river so General Higgins ordered Lt. Hugo Sims, commander of the I&R Platoon of the 501st PIR, to conduct a patrol across the river and capture a German prisoner for interrogation. Lt. Sims meticulously planned an extended patrol deep behind German lines to capture a prisoner and gather intelligence about the enemy forces across the river.
The plan was to cross the Lower Rhine, travel approximately six miles inland during the night, stay in a house along the road between Utrecht and Arnhem during the following day and, after nightfall, capture a German vehicle and drive it back to the American lines with the prisoner(s). Six men, including Sims, a German speaking interrogator, and four men from the I&R platoon carried out the patrol.
The men crossed the river undetected, discovered a German ammo dump, motor pool, by-passed the German occupied town of Wolfheeze and before dawn, captured two German cavalrymen in the house they were to stay in along the Utrecht-Arnhem road. The patrol set up their radio, made contact with the regiment and passed along the intelligence gathered so far.
During the day the patrol managed to capture many more German prisoners, mostly in ones and twos as they stopped to rest or get a drink of water at the house the patrol was in. All of the prisoners were incredulous that they had been captured so far behind their own lines. Some Dutch civilians also came to the house during the day and were kept inside the house for security reasons. The civilians helped with interogating the prisoners and Lt. Sims radioed the new intelligence back to headquarters.
It was now getting to be time to start looking for transport to get back to the American lines. Along came a 5-ton truck carrying 15 SS soldiers which was stopped by the patrol and taken captive. This was to be their ride. After dark, all the prisoners were loaded into the truck and were guarded by members of the patrol, but the German driver stayed up front to drive the truck. He proved to be a reluctant chauffer, however, and managed to get the truck stuck part of the way back to the river. Lt. Sims was left with no choice but to march the prisoners back to the river and the boats that would carry them all to the American lines. The last German prisoner taken, a Captain who stopped to yell at the truck driver for blocking the road and was subsequently taken prisoner, attempted to escape. One of the patrol members chased him down and persuaded the Captain to be compliant the rest of the way.
So now there were six American paratroopers marching 32 German prisoners of war, still miles behind German lines, toward the Rhine and captivity. The column even marched through part of the town of Renkum before reaching the boats on the river. The patrol and prisoners shuttled across the river until all were safely on the American side of the Rhine.
Not a man of the patrol was wounded or killed and only two shots were fired (into the air) while subdueing the German Captain during his escape attempt. None of the prisoners were harmed.
Members of HQ Co. 501 PIR in Holland German Prisoners from the Incredible Patrol
The Most Decorated Platoon
On 10 December, 1944, the I&R platoon of the 394th regiment, 99th Infantry Division was sent to the Lanzerath area to set up an observation post and protect the regiment's right flank. 1st Lt. Lyle Bouck positioned his platoon in the wood line Northwest of Lanzerath, overlooking the highway which runs North to the main defensive positions of the regiment and with a view to the East towards Losheim just across the German border. Besides their normal small arms, the platoon had accumulated some BARs, a .30-caliber light machine gun and had one of its jeeps equiped with a mounted .50-caliber heavy machine gun as well as extra ammo and grenades.
On the morning of 16 December, the Germans shelled the entire front to start their Ardennes Offensive to Antwerp, Belgium. The platoon faired well under the shelling due to its well prepared positions with deep and well protected foxholes, but the communication lines to regiment were cut. Lt Bouck managed to maintain contact using the platoon SCR-300 radio. Shortly after the shelling stopped, an American tank destroyer unit positioned at Lanzerath pulled its guns back to positions in the rear, leaving the I&R platoon to hold the line alone.
Soon the platoon observed a large German formation approaching. Lt. Bouck called for artillery on the German forces but was told there was none available. When the main body of the German column stopped in front of the platoon, Bouck's men opened fire and the fight was on.
The Germans initially tried a frontal assault on the American position. They attacked over an open, gently rising field over 100 yards long with a fence cutting across it. The 18 Americans of the I&R platoon leveled their rifles and automatic weapons on the attackers with devestating results. Lt. Bouck's men replused three seperate attacks in the battle which raged all day long.
Again requesting artillery support, Lt. Bouck was told there was none to be had and that he must hold at all costs. During this last radio communication, enemy fire disabled the platoon radio, destroying the handset as Lt. Bouck held it to his ear.
Recovering from this close call, Lt. Bouck ordered two men to reach regiment for reinforcements and ammunition or orders to withdraw. Before they got to headquarters, however, the regiment had withdrawn to other defensive positions and the two men were eventually captured by the Germans. Finally, at dusk, the German forces managed to flank the platoon and storm the position. With their ammo exhausted, every man in the platoon was taken prisoner.
In this one day of fighting, the 18 men of this I&R platoon inflicted between 400-500 German casualties, nearly destroying a battalion of the German 3rd Parachute Division. The German attack plan in this sector was seriously disrupted to the point that they were delayed roughly 24 hours. In those 24 hours, Kampfgruupe Peiper was to have reached the Meuse River. Instead, they had only advanced a few miles, and the 99th and 2nd Infantry Divisions had time to set up defenses at Elsenborn Ridge, where they stopped the Germans cold.
Since the entire platoon was captured, their exploits did not come to light until much later. Eventually the platoon was awarded a Presidential Unit Citiation for Extraordinary Heroism. Lt. Bouck and three other men received the Distinguished Service Cross, five men received the Silver Star and the remaining men received the Bronze Star with a Valor Device, thus making this platoon the most heavily decorated unit for a single action.
Lt. Lyle Bouck Survivors of the Platoon upon receiving their awards.