“The Killers”: The Intelligence Section of the 1st Bn, 39th Infantry

Mission

The Intelligence Section – also called the Battalion Reconnaissance Platoon – when operating in the field was to perform the job of any reconnaissance unit. Reconnaissance capabilities were available at each tactical level, from the squad to the army corps. The general job is the same.

Its main mission is to serve as a special intelligence agency to the battalion commander, under the supervision of the battalion intelligence officer (S-2). The section is also responsible of the counter-intelligence measures, and the tactical surveillance.

Operations are conducted under the direct command of the section leader – a Staff-Sergeant as from February 1944 – who receives his orders from either the battalion S-2 officer (intelligence officer), either the operations officer (S-3) or either directly from the battalion commander.

Equipment and organization

croscope-kujawa-gleparda-kreye-and-ferina-s-2-motor-patrol-near-auderville-cap-de-la-hague-franceAs from February 1944, the section consists in the section leader (Staff-Sergeant) and six privates specially trained in map reading, use of compass, patrolling, scouting, observing, self-defense and many other specialties : the Scout, Observer, Intelligence (as they’re defined in Tables of Organization & Equipment).

Left: Croscope, Kujawa, Gieparda, Kreye and Ferina (driver from HQ company). S-2 Motor patrol near Auderville, Cap de la Hague, France. Note the Browing M2, cal. .50 mounted on the Jeep.

To perform their missions, they need at least optical and orientation material. So they received classical compasses and a wrist compass each. Moreover, each man received binoculars. When sent to a reconnaissance mission, they move by Jeeps, usually heavily armed (Light Machinegun caliber .30 or Machinegun caliber .50) to reach the general location of the target, and then dismount to progress the closest possible to observe and report.

killers_002

“The Killers”, 1st Bn/39th Infantry

The 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, as every rifle battalion, had its own reconnaissance section. They had been nicknamed by Paddy himself in Sicily, “the Killers”. The “team” has changed often because of losses in combat, or transferred to rifle companies that suffered losses. For the year 1944, more or less, the Killers were composed of (battalion intelligence officer was at that time, Lieutenant Bennett):

  • SSgt Kreye, William M. (Brooklyn, NY)
  • Sgt Caban, Stanley (Buffalo, NY)
  • Pfc Kujawa, John S. (South Bend, IN)
  • Pfc Coleman, Jack (Narberth, PA)
  • Pfc Wilder, John H. (Lebanon, PA)
  • Pfc Curtis, Franklin (Bridgeport, CT)
  • Pfc Gieparda, Stanley (New Haven, CT)
  • Pfc Douglas, Samuel (Tamaqua, PA)
  • Pfc Crosscope, Jack (Pittsburg, PA)
  • Pfc Benson (PA)
  • Pfc Kraus (Chicago, IL)

standding-left-to-right-kreye-wilder-gieparda-kujawa-an-caban

Above: Standing left to right: Kreye, Wilder, Gieparda, Kujawa and Caban
In front crouched: Douglas, Coleman and Curtis

They accomplished dangerous and risky missions from Sicily to Germany. Some of the list were killed or died of their wounds, other were transferred at the end of the year 1944. Staff-Sergeant Kreye was one of the “Intel Section Originals” from Fort Bragg, NC. He stayed in the unit until the end of the war. He was the only one to stay in his unit, or to survive.

One of the numerous missions of the killers took place during the operation led by the division to clean the area of Tribehou – Bois du Hommet (a German-infested forest as Kreye described it), between Saint-Lô and Carentan (north-west of Saint-Lô). For this operation, the Ninth was supported by the 113th Cavalry and the 3rd Armored Division “Spearhead”. During this battle, some stayed-famous expressions were born as “Blow it out your stack and swivel”, “Killroy was here”, “Praise the Lord and spare the ammunition”, “You ain’t a boyd toyden” or “Shure nuff”, according to Kreye. But for the 39th Infantry, the still famous was “bullets don’t make the difference”, Paddy’s expression sadly proved later.

killers_004

As the battle progressed, 39th Infantry was attacking south-west down the Saint-Jean de Day – Le Désert road, as the left flank of the division, next to the 30th Infantry Division. On the early morning of July 11th, the antitank platoon had their guns knocked-out and 14 artillerymen were killed (including sergeants Curt C. Huff and William N. Wolfert, former intelligence man Roy Williams that was in the section in North-Africa). The German SS Panzer Lehr Division commanded by General Bayerlein had struck 39thInfantry and 30th Division. The 2nd Battalion was quickly surrounded with Panther tanks, and the 1st Battalion had enemy tanks everywhere in front of it. But even of the situation for the division turned bad, the three regiments were still attacking.

vanhbond  franklgunn
Above left: Lt. Col. Van H. Bond. Above right: Major Frank L. Gunn. Both pictures taken in England, April 1944.

Kreye overheard a conversation at the battalion command post between Major (later LTC) Frank L. Gunn (2nd Battalion C.O.) and Lieutenant Colonel (later full COL) Van H. Bond (at that time, the executive officer of the regiment):

“What should we do?” asked Gunn to Bond. “Stop our attack and fight the tanks?”

Colonel Bond replied: “Keep pushing forward! Don’t bother with the tanks. Avoid them. I’ll take care of them.”

And then the Killers entered the battle. They ran a patrol through Le Désert, because the battalion feared that the enemy mortars had reoccupied the town. The town was a no-man’s land at this time. Then, four U.S. bombers came, and the recognition panels were immediately displayed on the vehicles, and communications were established with ground liaison thank to the S-2 section to guide the aircraft onto the targets: the enemy Panther tanks. The bombing was very accurate and the situation changed rapidly: the Panzer Lehr was knocked out. And that exact moment was chosen by the 30th Division to attack, and they badly mauled the SS.

goury-france-north-of-auderville-liberated-by-s-2-first-battalion-thirty-ninth-infantryRight: A village liberated by S-2 Section, 1/39th Infantry !

The 60th Infantry was alerted to the rear, as the 47th Infantry and the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion. 3rd Battalion – 39th Infantry, then in reserve, was tasked to help out. The 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich was reported in this area too… But this will be part of another article…

This showed an example of the use of reconnaissance unit within the battalion: help the ground liaison officer to guide the air attack against the enemy troops, the “WWII JTAC”. And this, was a real mission performed by the Killers!