The following is Rocco Moretto’s oral account of the Morscheck Crossroads, provided by him in 1995.
On January 22, 1945 after being in position for 36 days, the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment was assigned the mission to capture and hold the Morscheck crossroads. The crossroads was a vital piece of real estate as it was being used as a supply route and for the movement of troops and equipment into the Ardennes salient and the Siegfried Line.
The area was heavily defended by self propelled guns, tanks, artillery and mortars and an oversized company of German Infantry. The attack was to take place on January 24 and Company “C” was relieved and taken out of the defensive line at Dom Butgenbach on January 22 and moved back to Butgenbach where we would get a good night’s rest, receive equipment such as shoe packs, camouflage snow suits and a half-pound of dynamite for each man to be used for breaking up the frozen ground so that the men could more easily dig their foxholes in the shortest possible time after securing their objective.
Company “C”‘s assignment was to take the crossroads. Captain Donald Lister, Company “C” Commander immediately organized a patrol for the night of January 22 which consisted of 16 men and one officer. A radio operator carrying a SCR 300 set was also included and he would stay in touch with the main body and transmit all pertinent information as it was gathered. The patrol was instructed to scout the area and Company “C” was assigned to attack on January 24. They would carry mostly automatic weapons and two hand grenades each. The patrol went out at 2200 hours and after several hours returned with the following information.
The snow in some places was four feet deep. The enemy had a series of dugouts which were probably used as strong points approximately 100 yards north of the north-south road. It was believed that these positions were occupied because there were footpaths in the snow leading to the dugouts. Anti-tank mines were observed approximately 350 yards north of the crossroads on the north south road.
This road would not be passable for vehicles until it was cleared of the mines. Armed with the above information, Captain Lister laid out his plan of attack and at 1800 hours on January 23rd assembled his platoon leaders and key personnel to give them their respective assignments and last minute instructions.
The time of attack was set for 0300 hours January 24th. The Company was to be awakened at 0100, would receive a hot meal and last minute instructions. The 1st Platoon was assigned the point and were to attack straight down the north south road moving as quickly as the situation would permit making as little noise as possible. It was very likely the enemy would fire all their prearranged fire missions immediately as soon as we were observed.
Upon reaching the crossroads the 1st platoon was then to swing to the east, clear out a patch of woods and take positions on the other side of the wooded area. There they would eventually tie in with the 2nd and 3rd Platoons. The 2nd Platoon led by Lieutenant Leon P. Kowalski, was instructed to follow the 1st Platoon and continue down the road after the 1st had swung to the east and clean out a house just east of the crossroads. At that location they were to tie in with the 1st Platoon on the east and Company “B” on the west.
The 3rd Platoon would be held in reserve and would not be committed until the situation required it. If all went according to plan they would tie in with the 1st on the east and bend around to the north thereby protecting “C” Company’s flank and rear.
The weapons platoon led by Lieutenant. Marlin Brockette were to quickly set up their mortars in battery 300 yards north east of the crossroads and be available to fire missions in support of the rifle platoons. Captain Lister also attached one section of heavy machine guns to the 1st Platoon and 1 section of light machine guns to the 2nd Platoon. Four tanks were assigned to the Company and would be available to give support after the objective was secured and the mines were cleared.
In addition one anti-tank gun would be available and could be called on to assist. Additionally, our 33rd Field Artillery had a liaison officer at 1st Battalion headquarters so we could fire missions through him. At 0200 hours after breakfast and last minute orders the men of Company “C” started out from Butgenbach and marched the approximate three miles to the line of departure at Dom Butgenbach and prior to our arrival at Dom Butgenbach the Company took a ten minute break.
At 0300 we started out in what was the coldest weather that I’d ever experienced in my whole lifetime. It was so cold the snowsuits were frozen stiff and crackled as you moved. The 1st Platoon led by Lieutenant Brooks sent out the point consisting of one squad and a second squad out as flank protection. The snowsuits blended in perfectly with the snow as they moved down the road and no opposition was met till the 1st Platoon swung to the east. At that point they were met with fire from two machine guns and about a squad of riflemen.
We very quickly gained fire superiority killing four of the enemy and six were taken prisoner. They were quickly disarmed and passed back to the rear. The 2nd Platoon in the meantime ran into enemy around the house and after a brief firefight two were killed and five more were captured. Additional Germans were caught in their dugouts and surrendered without firing a shot. As a matter of fact they were in dugouts they had heated with cans of sterno and even had taken their boots off for more comfort.
They probably never expected an attack under such horribly cold conditions. It was a text book attack. Everything broke right and just as dawn was beginning to break Company “C” was sitting right on its objective. The men quickly started to dig in using the TNT to help break up the frozen ground. Everything was going beautifully but the TNT threw up heavy black smoke in the explosion areas. The enemy observing this quickly began to rake our positions with heavy concentrations of fire and we began to sustain heavy casualties.
Lieutenant Kowalski, platoon leader, 2nd Platoon was painfully injured from the dynamite blast and limped his way back to the Medics. He was-patched up and later returned to the battle. At 1600 hours the Germans launched a counter attack in Battalion force after a 20 minute barrage of artillery fire. The 2nd Platoon was taking the brunt of the counter attack. When Lieutenant Kowakski returned from the medics he discovered that most of the platoon was gone. Platoon Sergeant Bob Wright had been killed, Clayton Goode, the platoon guide, had taken over and he and Lieutenant Kowalski began directing artillery fire. One of the two machine guns was still operable but the ammunition boxes had taken a hit by artillery. Only the gunner from the original two machine guns and their crews remained and he was hand feeding the ammo from a broken machine gun belt and he almost singly handedly held off the Germans. Our artillery and mortars took care of the rest catching the Germans out in the open.
In the meantime reinforcements were being sent to the 2nd Platoon and they were able to plug the gap and the day was saved. A second counter attack was expected but fortunately it never came. The Germans were also sustaining heavy casualties. The rest of the first Battalion had also taken their objectives and after a few days we were able to attack our way out of the salient and were on our way to reducing the so called Bulge. After a few weeks of almost daily attacks our lines were restored to what they were originally. While things got a little easier we still had that horrible weather to contend with.
The 26th Infantry Regiment had been previously cited by the government of Belgium with the Belgium Fouragere for the Battle of Mons and we received the 2nd Award of the Belgium Fouragere for the part we played in the Battle of the Bulge.