Happy ending for B/393 patrol years ago
On about March 17, 1945, the 99th Infantry Division had just completed the Remagen Bridgehead battle and was headed east into Germany.
Company B, 393rd Infantry was approaching the city of Wetzlar when word was received the U.S. Army wanted to obtain the Leica Camera and Instrument Works in Wetzlar. The Army wanted the factory as soon as possible.
The plan to capture the factory was to hurriedly send a reinforced platoon into Wetzlar and secure the plant. The task was assigned to First Platoon of Company B. A light machine gun section, a signal team with an SCR-300 radio, an interpreter, and a combat photographer were attached to the full squads. The platoon medic also went along.
The platoon was led by T/Sgt. Henry Ebensperger from Plum City WI, because the current platoon leader couldn't continue with us after the bridgehead battle.
Sgt. Ebensperger joined the 99th from the ASTP. He turned down a battlefield commission. I belive the platoon was chosen because of the excellent leadership qualities and combat experiences that Sgt. Ebensperger possessed.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for action during the initial phase of the Bulge. We all called him "Eb." I was a BAR man during the bridgehead battle, and Eb asked me to be his platoon runner after the battle. I jumped at the request.
I've visited him a few times after the war and my wife Amy and I saw them in Plum City just before he and his wife left for the reunion in Biloxi.
After the war Eb studied refrigeration and started a business selling and servicing milk coolers to dairy farmers. He still does some work helping his son who has carried on with the business.
Returning now to the capture of the factory. Company B had a few days after the bridgehead battle to get replacements because our platoon was down to about 35 percent. Eb was concerned about taking the platoon on the patrol because of so many "green" troops going into their first engagement.
There was no fanfare at the time of our departure. The platoon was given the situation and objective, and was organized and moved out. Even the seasoned vets were quiet as we walked toward Wetzlar.
The new replacements, no doubt, knew this could be a difficult patrol as they went by a knocked-out light tank. The crew lay dead on the pavement at the rear of the tank.
As a platoon runner, I was able to move around and I took time to look over the tank. A small hole on the right side indicated it was hit by a "panzerfaust" at close range. It had been fired from the side of a building as soon as the tank came into view.
The dead included an officer for he still had a helmet on with the vertical white stripe on the back. From their nice, clean uniforms, it appeared they were new troops. The tank looked like it had just rolled off the assembly line. Although I never discussed it with anyone, I'm quite sure the crew was murdered after they left the tank.
Soon after leaving the tank, we came upon an intact vehicle bridge that crossed a good-sized stream. This concerned Eb for it could have been a setup for a trap. He held up the patrol so he could look over the situation. If we crossed the bridge, we could be cut off from Company B, still a good distance away.
Eb was hesitant to leave troops behind to protect the bridge because of so many inexperienced troops. After thinking about it, he decided to go forward with the strength of the platoon.
For some reason we lost contact with Company B with the SCR-300 radio. That really was a worry. We eventually made it to the Leica factory without enemy contact. What a relief!
Eb was given strict orders on securing the factory until properly relieved. He was given a list of those who could enter the factory, and it was a joy to see the sergeant turn down field grade officers who wanted to visit the factory.
The platoon did allow some enlisted men in the factory but they were German soldiers wanting to surrender to escape from any problems from the many DPs (displaced people). The Germans were placed in a corner and needed no guarding.
The platoon stayed guarding the factory for a few days while Company B moved forward. We were relieved to catch up with the company and get ready to close the Ruhr Pocket.
This is one of those patrols which came out OK and we were glad of that. Those of you who survived patrols know how lucky we were.
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