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June 12, 2014

AAR - Operation Nordwind 2014

After Action Report – Operation Nordwind
1st Plt, Baker Company 502nd PIR 101st ABN
Ft. Indiantown GAP, PA
27-29 MAR 2014

Arrival to FIG was sporadic but everyone made it in by the early evening. After a rousing dinner at Funk’s we returned to base to prepare for the operation to occur over the next two days. In years past we had been used as a reconnaissance element but as our numbers have grown we were tasked for a different mission this time.

We were under the command of Capt. Felmlee, in the aptly named “Task Force Felmlee.” We worked in concert with other units in the task force, mainly a squad of men from the 8th ID under the command of Sgt. Carter Bertone. The Lt’s and myself were briefed by the Captain as to the plan for the following day, immediately following our briefing we briefed the rest of the platoon. Reveille was set at 0600 and we were to be in formation by 0830 for transportation to the training area.

Reveille came early but every man sprang from his rack with youthful exuberance in anticipation of the fight to come. Racks were made with hospital corners and the men were allowed to scrounge breakfast at a nearby building. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. There were croissants and nasty pound cake washed down by some water with coffee in it. Once all were fed we slimed our way back to the barracks put on our gear and fell out to draw ammo. After drawing ammo we were no longer allowed back into the barracks and that is when it began to rain. We stood in the rain like a bunch of tough bastards for a few minutes before realizing that we weren’t tough, but were in fact stupid. We sought shelter under the eaves of a nearby building which sufficed for another few minutes until the slope of the ground became too much to bear. We finally settled for another building with larger eaves and more shelter. The transportation was supposed to arrive at 0830 so when they did arrive at 0915 we were not only wet, but also a little angry (the best kind of paratrooper).

The ride to the area took 15 minutes and the rain was not letting up. Our DZ was Estroy and we disembarked, joining the rest of our forces. Our first task was to recon the intersection in area B10-5 and B10-2. We made our way from Estroy via route Jambes in combat formation for about ¼ mi before crossing a field and skirting a tree line until we reached our objective. The platoon was broken into two squads and a HQ section. First squad moved into position at the intersection and spaced the men north along the road tying into the men from the 8th ID. Second squad was positioned with over watch on the intersection east of first squad and the HQ element consisting of the Lt’s and the RTO were behind the line to perform direction in case contact was made. We were only to stay in this position for an hour before moving back to Estroy. After sitting for fifteen minutes I took Pvt’s Strichko and Boham on a scouting movement beyond the intersection to look for the enemy. None was found and after reporting this to the Lt. we began our movement back to Estroy.

Upon arrival at Estroy we were told to take a break and grab a bite to eat. The boys broke out rations and ate like the good soldiers they are and after forty-five minutes we were given the word to move south on Estroy to the area due south of route Plante and Ault. We were to become the left flank of our forces and make a push west to route Oster and destroy any German forces that we might come into contact with. We formed up and hadn’t walked 100 yards before two Germans lying in wait in a stand of trees ambushed us. We quickly returned fire and pushed through the thicket destroying the enemy force but not finding any others. Once back on task the push was made post haste to get us into position on route Ault.

On the extreme left of the Allied line we were spread out on a north to south line on Ault. We observed a German scout vehicle on the far ridge some 8-900 yards away. It was easy to spot them because all the ground cover had been burned away. The area looked as though it had recently been on fire and smelled like scorched earth. Every man that took a knee or brushed against a tree became marked with soot. We were ordered to push across the expanse into contact. We pushed through trees and across open fields until finally we came into a stand of trees, which we could see Germans moving. We pushed them through the trees and back to their lines at which time we discovered that they had a half-track hidden and it began to fire on us. We returned fire and lost a few men before beating a hasty retreat back across the expanse to our former positions on Ault. It was at this time that we realized that the German half-track was moving towards our position. We sought refuge in the woods east of Ault and found good fighting positions to make our stand. I was ordered to take my squad down the hill farther east and attempt to flank the half-track. We made our way through the woods, sneaky peat style, and found a position to lie in and waited. We could hear the half-track moving up and down the road. We got up to move again and made it 50 feet before we were ambushed by Germans that had disembarked from the half-track with the same idea we had. The Germans surprised us and we began to make our way back to the other squad. Found the other squad already engaged and was ordered to make another attempt at flanking the track. I did as I was ordered and we encountered the Germans once again and managed to kill all of them and take one prisoner, which I returned for interrogation by our XO, Lt. Smith. Upon returning I saw that a good portion of our platoon had been KIA from the half-track but that the track had not breeched our position. Pvt. Romestan and T-5 Penix met a similar doom when they stumbled upon a skunk, the sight of which forced them to move into the line of fire. With the enemy repulsed and our numbers back to strength we moved back to our position along the road and met up with Capt. Felmlee. He informed us that we were in a stand down for the time being and that we could relax. We all huddled around the jeep and did not hear that events had begun again. It was at this time that we saw the all too familiar German half-track, supported by infantry and a tank, moving toward our position. We made a hasty defense and returned fire but it was not enough. Our forces were overrun and we were all slaughtered like cattle. Sgt. Bertone and his men flanked the half track and German infantry to redeem our loses. Once our Lazarus moments had passed we made our way back to back to Estroy to await transport back to the rear and a nice hot shower. On the ride back we were regaled by men who had seen the bridge at Remagan blown up “like fuckin fireworks”. They were good storytellers…

After the buses dropped us off to our barracks, we hanged our soggy wet jackets, scraped our muddy boots, and cleaned our rifles. A few of the new recruits needed help taking apart their rifles and had some valuable lessons learned that the up-rod spring has to come out first before you can take out the pin assembly of an M1 Garand.

It wasn't long before we had to get ready for our award ceremony before going out to dinner. So we put on dry, clean uniforms and awarded 5 new recruits the "Parachute Infantry Badge". Normally a symbol of completion of "Jump School", we as Living historian and Airborne Reenactor, use it as a symbol of honor and the culmination of the same training, demeanor and tactics that our WWII Airborne veterans employed in midst of battle during the war.

The next morning came quickly as most of us had stayed up to near midnight regaling each other with stories from the day just past. We ate chow, which consisted of the same menu, and the same food as the day before, and geared up to await transportation to the training area. The weather proved to be more of the same although the rain did not start until we had been in the field for some thirty minutes. Our initial task was rear security, which was not our idea. We formed a line of defense on a hill in a 180-degree semi circle area, covering an area around 200 yards wide. From this vantage point we had command over the entire valley and could easily see any movement to our immediate front, right, and limited left. We maintained this position until 1100, at which time we were tasked to move down the hill at our front towards the enemy that could be seen moving through the trees and underbrush. We moved twenty yards and began to fire, which sent the German raiding party retreating into the trees. We could see them moving to and fro but they refrained from attacking us. As we sat midway up the hill Bertone’s men moved into a perfect ambush site on our extreme left to await the enemy. We received word to pull back to our original positions before the Germans made any moves. I sent Pvt’s Shiele and Barto to inform Sgt. Bertone of the movement and we began the march back up the hill. Once we reached our original positing we were told to move back down the hill via the road this time, push past Rt. Plante where we were to from a skirmish line and push towards Rt. Ault. We formed up on Jambes and moved southeast towards Plante with Sgt. Bertone leading the way. We reached the bottom of the hill, which was at the top of a ravine. We moved into the ravine at which time a German recon party ambushed us. They were completely camouflaged and took out near 60% of our force. I was at the bottom of the ravine when I was taken out. Luckily the men’s training kicked in and the men of second squad dispatched the remaining Germans. We pushed forward towards Ault in the soggy ground, which was next to a small creek. Upon reaching Rt. Ault we were ordered back into the same positions, which we occupied the day before. Battle lines were formed and we were told to push forward through the woods towards Rt. Oster. I ended up on the extreme left of our line and for a time lost sight of our men. I did come upon a lone soldier in the middle of the woods and wasn’t sure of he was a German sniper until I got closer and realized that he was in fact taking care of “number two business.” Once the awkward conversation was over I moved forward, watching where I stepped, towards Oster. Emerging from the woods we were met by men from another task force involved in fighting the pesky half-track. I did not see any of our men, which worried me but not too bad because they are well trained. I continued to push forward until I saw that my men were held up in a section of woods that the Germans were being stubborn about. We pushed as best we could and almost made it to the German stronghold at Jambes, but were eventually thrown back and ordered to the roadside. I reminded the men about what had happened the day before and not to let their guard down. They held the vigilance and made some coffee. We were all soaked to the bone by now, low on ammo, and ready to head back but I knew we still had some fight left in us. The coffee proved to be magic elixir for the men over the age of 30 and they all had a renewed sense of fight in them. It had been about 45 minutes before we were ordered to move into the woods between Oster and Jambes. This was to be the final attack on the Germans and take their strongpoint. The rain picked up as we began to move out. Drops were hitting us from above and from the side when the wind would pick up but it wasn’t cold. The Kraut bastards were spotted but they had not spotted us yet. Bertone’s men pushed towards their position but were cut down upon reaching the outer most defenses of the objective. We followed, making sure not to take the some route and were met with fierce resistance. It was at this time they dropped the hammer on us and began firing with everything they had including the half-track. Lt. Smith and T-4 Krause were in front of it when it began to fire but were miraculously spared. T-4 Krause pulled the pin on his last grenade and with a laser like accuracy put it right in to the back of the halftrack. With the half-track taken out and their resistance faltering we swarmed over the embankments and took out the rest of those schnitzel-eating pricks. The day had been won, and the 502nd was again on the victorious side. The day being over I was given directions to the rendezvous point and out of every unit present we were the only one to march to the point under cadence, thanks to T-5 Penix. It was a proud moment for all of us!!

Again, Baker Company has shown it tactical prowess and ability to conform to any mission it is given. The effectiveness of a leader is due to the performance of the men under his command. The men of this platoon have repeatedly made the CO, XO, and my job easy. For that I would like to thank each and everyone for the privilege of serving you as the Platoon Sergeant of Baker Company.

Christopher Bauer
SSgt./502nd PIR, 101st ABN

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