The Thompson sub story

S/Sgt Harold F. Schaefer

Company G, 394th Infantry Regiment.

After the January 31st attack (see Reserve platoon), Harry Schaefer’s company G and the rest of his Regiment resumed the advance to the east and recaptured most of the ground lost in December. On February 03, 1945, General Lauer issued Field Order #5 in which the division was ordered to relieve the 82nd Airborne Division. The 99th Division was ordered to move into Germany and consolidate a 13.000 yard front from the vicinity of Hollerath down to Losheim in the south. Schaefer and his men were deployed south of the blood soaked ground of Udenbreth, taken a few days before by the 82nd Airborne’s 325th Glider Regiment after bitter fighting and important casualties.

2-G-394 edited

2nd squad, 2nd platoon of G company, pictured on March 21, 1945 in the Remagen bridgehead. S/Sgt Schaefer is first from right kneeling. On his right is 1Lt John Loftus.

“… It was Feb 3, 1945.  We had just finished cleaning up the area pinched off by the 9th Division on the left and the 2nd Division on the right. After two days of licking our wounds, we were assigned to relieve the 82nd Airborne Division in the Weisserstein area where we had been prior to December 16th.  We, G Co, were trucked to California Road, very close to where we had come out of the woods on December 17th ( see withdrawal through Mürringen). We then went east thru the forest and on to where the 82nd was dug in. On our way, I passed by the body of an 82nd trooper. He no longer had any use for his Thompson sub-machine gun so I relieved him of it as well as all the ammo clips he had. The clips came in pairs, taped together so that when one was empty all you had to do was turn it over for another 20 rounds. We moved into our new area, and after the formalities of being shown the location of the outpost and the foxholes the 2nd Plt was to call home, the 82nd said us goodbye. Now we had officers in charge of the Platoons but the 2nd. Lt Burtner was not back from his wounds of the 18th December, Lt. Loftus was still the Company Liaison with battalion and as Platoon Sgt, I was still in charge of the 2nd Platoon. I wondered why the 2nd Plt was assigned these positions because the CP was a bunker of the West Wall. The others were CP’d in holes with plenty of water so you can understand my bewilderment at drawing a dry bunker with a 6 foot thick concrete roof. We settled in to our new digs and joked about our new firepower. In addition to my new found weapon, Sgt Don Thomas had also fallen heir to a Thompson and PFC Gene Heald had liberated a Burp Gun (Note: German machine pistol). We retained our M1’s because our new ‘toys’ were only good until the ammo ran out. Riflemen aren’t on the draw list for 45 ammo and Heald would have to liberate his 9mm ammo if he wanted any more. The first night went by without incident and it was even nice to be sleeping on a bunk, high and dry. I left a skeleton crew out, backing up the outpost, and the rest of the men shared the comfort of the ‘bunk house’. There were probably 40 canvas on pipe frame bunks in the ‘bed room’ of this bunker. There was a kitchen, conference room and headquarters room in addition to the ‘bed room’ in this particular bunker. The word soon got out that Schaefer had spare beds in his hotel and we soon had other members of the battalion spending the night with us. This was fine until one officer wanted one of my guys to give up his bunk so he wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. The entire platoon is still laughing.

On the morning of the 6th February, the outpost called and said they saw movement several hundred yards down a firebreak to their right front. It was so foggy that they could not determine if they were friend or foe. I went out for a look and like them, I could see three forms but could not identify them. I instructed the outpost to cover me and if they heard my Thompson speak, they should feel free to join in. I went about 30 yards down the trail and was about to challenge them when they turned to their right and left the trail. Even in the fog, that profile of the billed cap made them Jerry. I fired on them, dropping one, sending one running through the woods, dragging his right leg, and one yelling « Comrade » while lying on the ground by his buddy. It turned out that the ‘buddy’ was an officer and the soldier surrendered to help him. We picked him up and with ‘Fritz’ on one side and me on the other, we drug him back to the outpost. From the phone in the outpost, we called for a medic sIed. It arrived and we put the wounded on the sled and hooked his buddy to the pull ropes and we were on our way to the CP.  I called company HQ and they said to ‘pick them clean’ and take them to the Bn Aid station while sending their ‘goodies’ to Co CP. Since Thomas revealed that he knew where the Aid station was, I volunteered him to ‘mush’ on through the woods with this unlikely bobsled. He reported back and said the Bn Surgeon took one look at the guy and said to pull him over under a tree and let him die. He had been hit above his left ear and it was like you had taken a large spoon and scooped a four inch groove out of his head. His brain was exposed but didn’t appear damaged. That night, maybe nine o’clock, the outpost called and said there was a group of people in the small pines between them and our main line. After sending the bunk house gang back to their positions, Gene Heald and I went out to greet our visitors. It didn’t take long to determine that they were Jerry and with some coaxing and firing over their heads with that Thompson, we got them to come out of their cover. The first two stumbled out on the trail, then another and another and my God, they kept coming until we had 15 of them. Now there were just Heald and myself out there in the dark (and there’s nothing darker than a pine forest on a cloudy night) with these prisoners, halfway between the outpost and the main line. We herded our willing surrenderees back to the CP and called Company to come and get them. They said « We’ll get them in the morning ». Thank God for that bunker. Can you imagine keeping these guys together all night in the dark? Neither could I so I emptied the bunk house and put them in there where one guard could watch over them. The Bn guests could sleep on the floor in the conference room or wherever. Everyone cooperated except one officer from H Company. He insisted that the prisoners be kept outside and that he and the others were entitled to those bunks. With all due respect for his rank, I tried to explain the reasoning for my decision. He was not prone to reason so I had to point out to him just who the hells CP he was in and if he didn’t want to sleep on the floor in the other room, he could damn well right take his sony ass back to the hole he came from. After some dialog regarding the fact that by tomorrow night « you won’t have any stripes or CP », he disappeared into the next room. That was the last I ever saw or heard of him. The next morning Ben Heyward, our 1st Sgt, called and asked « How are things down there in Schaefer’s shooting gallery? » After that, that is what the 2nd pIatoon area was known as. But what I wanted to know was what to do with these guys. Hold them until S-2 could get there and ‘pick there brains’ and then somebody would take them back to the POW cage, I was told. A lot of Brass showed up and while the interrogation was going on, a Bird Colonel was wandering around and ran into Thomas sporting his Thompson. He approached Don and expressed how much he would like to have one. Now he was a bright man and he knew that the Thompson was not the TO&E weapon of a rifleman and he made this fact known to Thomas. When he asked Thomas to give it to him, Don replied, « Go out in the woods and get yourself one, that’s what I had to do ». I don’t know what followed but it wasn’t an hour before the Company Commander issued the order « Turn in all unauthorized weapons immediately. » Of course the exception was P-38’s and Lugers. On the 8th, the 394th was relieved by the 424th of the 106th Div. They were understrengh and could not cover our entire area so G Co was a little late getting off line. A Company from the 69th Div finally showed up and I ‘reluctantly’ gave up my bunker. The following night, Jerry, being pissed off with my shooting gallery, snuck up on the outpost and killed the three 69th men manning it. I was later told that the wounded Jerry Officer, after laying on the sled a couple hours, was seen sitting up on it. The medics took him in and operated on him and shipped him back to a General Hospital. He was still alive three days later when they lost track of him. I hope he made it…”  

Sources: Correspondences and interviews with Harold Schaefer.