From 11 to 14 October 1944, 3rd Battalion – 39th Infantry – lost nearly 350 men in the fights conducted to seize the village of Vossenack, in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany. Vossenack and Germeter are villages located aside the road leading to Düren, main objective of the division during the battle of Hurtgen Forest. This road focused impressive combats during nearly two months (September-October).
Then located north-west of Germeter, third Battalion of Lt. Col. Robert Stumpf is ordered, on 11 October, to move towards Vossenack to seize the town, that should block any German incoming from east to protect Düren’s road. Entrenched into the forest, the battalion, in the early hours of the morning, encountered mortar shells that were firing from the village. This disorganized command groups of rifle companies, heavily hit. The advance could not be made until the end of the morning.
K and L companies moved eastward, crossed the road to find themselves in the woods, again, while I company moved up along the road and established a roadblock to protect the northern flank of the regiment. It’s L company – commanded by Captain Guy Carr – that led the attack. Once both companies entered the woods, German mortars restarted to shoot onto the advancing riflemen, causing heavy losses. The battalion (less I company) reached the wood border anyway, north of Vossenack. L Company sent patrols all night long towards the village without spotting any enemy in. Germans got out of there, to surround the American, and isolate them.
Lieutenant-Colonel Robert H. Stumpf, Battalion Commander, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry
Captain Guy E. Carr, Company Commander, L. Company, 39th Infantry
In late afternoon, Stumpf received a very important information: a major German counter-attack is planned coming from the north (Kampfgruppe Weiglin). He is ordered to hold his positions, and he was told that all the division depended of his battalion’s position. Stumpf, lacking men, contacted Captain Sanderson’s F Company to reinforce Danna’s I company.
Members of the 39th Infantry Regiment warm themselves by a fire on the edge of the forest near Vossenack, 12 October 1944. (Signal Corps)
The day after, 12 October, Colonel Bond, 39th Infantry C.O., decided to organized a combined operation to attack Vossenack, and planned a direct support of tanks coming from the west. 1st Battalion of Lt. Col. Henry Tucker had to attack from south-west, while 3rd Battalion had to enter the village from the north. Companies were ready to launch their attack, but Stumpf, whose battalion must lead the offensive, did not receive any attack order. Worst, at 1600hrs, he was asked to get back to his former positions, north-west of Germeter! Stumpf did not have any information, because no radio communication was allowed. He did what was asked, and as the 3rd battalion was withdrawing, a messenger arrived to inform le commander to lead a new attack westwards. Without any additional detail, and without a clear idea of the situation, Stumpf did it, and moved 300 yards forward, on the road coming from Vossenack, then took position on the northern side of this road for the night.
The day after this confusion, Colonel Bond gave the general order to continue the attack to all his leaders. K company, commanded by Captain Edward Bailey (that has been wounded few days earlier), progressed along a very narrow path to a hill overhanging both villages. L company took position just behind K company, but just before joining them, they felt into an ambush. Directly, K company stepped back and attacked the ambushers by their rear, but they were to slow, and the enemy could escape to north-west. Hopefully, the rest of the regiment was coming: G and I companies blocked the withdrawing enemy, and were soon joined by L and K companies. They killed or captured all the German soldiers who were involved in that ambush.
Last thing to do : enter the village. On October 14th, the whole battalion, reinforced by B, E and G companies, began the attack, but could not break the enemy lines. Bond, contacted by Stumpf during the day, asked to his commanders to stop their fight for this small village, and to take position on the hill. Danna’s I company was the first in position, and during eleven days, companies relayed each other to guard the sector. On 23rd, 3rd battalion made his last rotation before it took position in his former emplacement, north-west of Germeter. During these fifteen days, there was no unit able to take Vossenack, and 39th Infantry lost many men. Only for the 3rd battalion I company lost 57 men, K company lost 130, and L company lost 110 men. On average, it’s between 20 to 30 men lost by platoon for the entire Stumpf’s battalion.
That was four days of two months in the Hurtgen Forest…
What remained of the surrounding forest after four months of battle in the Hurtgenwald (Signal Corps)