Despite slowing the Soviet advance in the vicinity of Butzbach, Task Force Bayonet was ordered south. After a brief stop at Ray Barracks in Frieberg, where we topped off our vehicles and then destroyed the fuel depot. For those who are fans of the King, Elvis Presley served as a scout in the 1st Battalion 32nd Armor at Frieberg in 1958. Rumors spread through the Task Force that could hear him singing later that night.
While there we received replacement vehicles and personnel. During re-fueling I was called by the battalion C.O. who stated that TF Bayonet would continue to serve as the rear guard but we were to move to the high ridge that was just north of Bad Homburg. LTC Thomas also told me that our mission was critical and that he was assigning me four ITV Sections, 2 VADs Sections, as well as a replacement platoon of M-1s. He warned me that the M-1 platoon was commanded by 2nd Lieutenant John Davison, who was fresh out of the Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, and had little experience. He also said that the M-1s were refurbished, but the tanks had not had the chance to bore sight their main guns. Since my 1st Platoon had been destroyed he assigned me the 1st Platoon from Charlie Company, led by Lieutenant Pinky Henderson. Charlie Company had taken heavy casualties in the previous three days, and its surviving units were distributed to the other companies.
In support I was allowed to retain Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion 3rd Field Artillery which had fought with us during the battles of Bad Hersfeld and Butzbach. It consisted of 6 M109s and a FIST. The 4th Platoon Alpha Company 3rd Battalion 5th Air Defense was also attached to us. LTC Thomas advised me that my reputation for using the Vulcans as mobile gun platforms to destroy BMPs had become well known and that Lieutenant Jack Hanson was a bit worried that I did not understand that their role was to destroy enemy aircraft. I smiled and told the Old Man that I would take his concerns under advisement. To help guard against a surprise he was also attaching two scout sections under newly promoted Sergeant First Class Peter Hope, whom we had worked with before. Air Support was not available since all assets were being used to stop the Soviets in the vicinity of Hanau. I was beginning to get used to this lack of support.
Our mission was to delay any Soviet advance, but since our situation was so fluid we would not to become committed to a fight and to make it to Bad Homburg within 24 hours. At 1900 hours I called my platoon leaders and section leaders for a final briefing. After explaining our mission I gave them our order of march:
SFC Hope of the Scout platoon with two ITV Sections attached would lead keeping about a kilometer to the front. Following him would be the 3rd Platoon, the 1st Platoon, an ITV Section, and the artillery. The 2nd Platoon would bring up the rear along with the Vulcan Platoon and the remaining ITV Section. We would march at 0400 the next morning. I told the platoon leaders that I was concerned with the fatigue of our men, since we had fought two major engagements in the past three days. I ordered them to ensure that everyone got at least 6 hours of sleep, but we must remain on 25% alert. Before dismissing them I asked Lieutenants Davison and Hanson to wait.
I briefly addressed Lieutenant Hanson’s concerns about our use of the Vulcans as anti-BMP weapons. I explained that their primary mission was Air Defense, but if no enemy aircraft was present I expected him to support the Mech Platoons. After he left I briefly talked to Lieutenant Davison and asked him how it was going. I told him I had complete confidence in him and recommended that he listen to his platoon sergeant. Also told him that the war would not be over in a day and not to take too many risks.
As I prepared myself for the next day, I went over our battle plan one last time. I had complete confidence in my 2nd and 3rd Platoons, our artillery support, the scouts, and our two sections of ITVs that have been with us since I assumed command of Bravo Company a year ago. However I knew that it would take time to integrate the new attachments into such a tight knit organization. I knew all of the men were exhausted but hope that a good night’s rest would rejuvenate them.
SFC Hope and his scouts led off our march and was well in advance of the Task Force when he radioed back that there was a large number of BMPs supported by tanks and air defense in the vicinity of Friedrichsdorf, just north of Bad Homburg. Since I was ordered to avoid engaging the enemy if at all possible I told my platoons to shift to the northwest and try to bypass the enemy. The enemy spotted the scouts and realized that they had to be screening our movement. They began advancing in force through the town with four tanks on our right followed by a large number of BMPs. On our left the Scouts were doing a good job masking our movements and the Soviets advanced very cautiously.
Our artillery went into the woods and realized that the enemy had pre-plotted fire on the woods, so they pulled back. In the process three of the guns became bogged down. The 3rd Platoon was ordered to set up a blocking position to prevent the Soviets from catching us in the flank. The M-1 Platoon moved up moved forward and brought the advancing T-64s under fire. I ordered the 1st Platoon to support the 3rd Platoon on its left. The 2nd Platoon and the Vulcans were to maneuver to our right to keep open the corridor for us to by-pass the Soviets. The ITVs opened up on the advancing BMPs on our left but to little effect.
We had to knock the Soviets back on our right in order to escape. Lieutenant Davison and his M-1s, began a short range duel with the T-64s, while artillery was called in on the BMPs. Lieutenant Davison was able to damage three of the T-64s, but their crews decided to stay with their tanks and quickly remounted. We were able to destroy a BMP and damage a few others. Lieutenant Hanson, seeing there was no air threat advanced his Vulcans through the woods on the right and managed to damage all the BMPs forcing their infantry to dismount. In the center and on our left the Soviets continued to advance slowly under the combined fire of our artillery, scouts, and ITVs.
The T-64s destroyed the remaining M-1s. The Soviet commander, realized that if he could knock the 3rd Platoon off their position he would prevent us from escaping to the right. He ordered his dismounted infantry to assault the 3rd Platoon. He was able to bring it under intense fire and pin it, destroying one fire team. As they move forward into the assault, the combined fire of the 3rd Platoon and its remaining M113 inflicted heavy casualties on them but failed to stop the assault. But it did cause them to think twice about engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a dug-in troops. They were unable to inflict any further casualties on our troops. Lieutenant Brian Boyle ordered his men out of their foxholes to counter-attack the faltering enemy and quickly destroyed those to their front.
I ordered the ITVs and scouts on our left to begin withdrawing and they were brought under heavy fire. Both of Staff Sergeant John Almond’s ITVs, which had been attached to the Scouts, were damaged but they chose to try to fix them instead of pulling out. They were quickly overrun by the advancing Soviet infantry. Lieutenant John Parker, my FIST who had been with the Task Force, was caught by a Soviet Rocket Barrage and was killed.
After the failed infantry assault, there appeared to be a lull and I quickly disengaged my forces and continued to march towards Bad Homburg. SFC Peter Hope and his remaining scouts covered our withdrawal.
Our casualties were:
3rd Platoon: 3 M113s destroyed and ten men killed or wounded.
Scouts: 3 ITVs and 1 M113 destroyed
Lieutenant Davison and His M-1s: all destroyed
ITVs not attached to Scouts: 2 destroyed
Lieutenant Hanson and His Vulcan Platoon: 2 Vulcans destroyed.
BMPs: 10 – 15 destroyed
Infantry: 100+ killed or wounded
ZSU-23-4s: 4 destroyed
The game ended on the 6th Turn when both of us contested the objective, which meant it was a tie.
The M-1s were totally ineffective. In a 15 minute duel with four T-64s, they only did minor damage to them before the T-64s destroyed the platoon. This may have been due to the fact that the main gun on the M-1s had not been bore sighted. (In four turns of shooting – about 20 shots – the M-1s only hit the T-64s eight times and was only able to bail them four times.)
The Vulcans once again were called in to lend fire support to the infantry. They succeed in stopping the advancing BMPs and were instrumental in keeping the corridor open.
A final note from LTC Thomas, the 3rd Battalion 36th Infantry’s commander. After Captain Burnham filed this after-action-report, the battalion successfully broke off from the Soviet advance, which was halted due to the massive NATO counter-attack in the south. The battalion was sent to the rear to rest and rebuild its strength. As he was leading the much depleted Task Force Bayonet to the rear, a Soviet aircraft shot it up and Captain Burnham was seriously wounded. He was medivacked back to the States. He is currently in stable condition at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii.