During the first two days of the operation, Col Stokes sent most of his communications to Maj Hansen, CO of the 99-IB (S), through Lt Henry W. Johnson, CO of How Co, 66-AIR. Lt Johnson relates that Maj Hansen was dismounted after the first 15 minutes; that he did not see him again during the operation; that his (Johnson’s) orders came from Col Stokes; and that in practice he communicated directly with his platoon leaders and them in turn with the infantry platoon leaders. On this point, Maj Hansen said that communications were very difficult throughout the operation and that messengers had to be used much of the time. But he emphasized that Col Stokes did not try to run the infantry. He was a tanker. He asked for my recommendations on the use of the infantry.

So, at about 1700 Sept 16, the 2nd Plat. (5 M-4’s) of How Co 66-AIR, the 2nd Plat. (5 M-5’s) of Baker Co 66-AIR, and all of Charlie Co 99-IB (S) crossed the Vaart Canal on the wooden bridge at Smeermaas. Capt Herbert C. Merlin, Charlie CO, had made no specific arrangements with the tank platoon leaders regarding tank-infantry tactics. The 99-IB (S) had worked with the 3/66-AIR for three days before to this operation, and it was mutually understood that the infantry would be assigned to work with specific tanks. This was done. About 5 doughboys were assigned to each light tank and about 8 to each medium. The spearhead of Task Force Stokes moved north in a column led by the light tanks.

It met an outpost screen about 1000 M north of the bridge but progressed almost to the bridge at Neerharen before meeting any resistance of consequence. The more hostile force had concentrated in some woods. To clean it out, the tanks deployed, the lights mixed with the mediums, and the infantry dismounted. While the infantry protected the tanks from possible Panzerfausten – Panzerschrecken fire, the tanks took care of any hostile automatic fire that opened up. Resistance soon faded, but rear guards enabled a lot of Germans to run away. Near the Neerharen bridge, the enemy occupied a pillbox. The tanks plastered it with 75-MM fire. This kept the defenders from manning their weapons and stunned them. After that, the infantry had little trouble in capturing most of the occupants and killing a few who still showed signs of resistance. When, finally, the spearhead force had secured the east side of the Canal at this point, the rest of the 99-IB (S) (less 1 Plat. Able Co), assembled in the vicinity of Neerharen and prepared to cross over. At this point, the infantry was subjected to a 20 minutes concentration of hostile artillery, estimated to have been at least one battery of medium artillery.

From the high ground east of the Meuse River, the enemy had a direct observation post. To avoid bringing down an artillery concentration on the bridge itself, it was necessary to rush the troops across the bridge, a few at the time. The situation required leadership. For example, the 1st Plat. of Baker Co 99-IB (S) was pinned down after suffering 4 casualties. T/Sgt Roland I. Asleson, the platoon leader, demonstrated outstanding leadership in rallying his platoon and getting them across the bridge. It was now about 1900. Maj Hansen realized that the important thing was to get his force north out of the narrowest part of the corridor before dark. Fortunately, no AT weapons were encountered, only some foxholes along the east bank of the Canal, which were facing west. The tanks rolled up and pasted these positions with 75-MM and MG fire. When they lifted their fire, the infantry advanced and took TF Stokes’ first large bunch of POWs. Baker’s CO, Lt Gunderson, was injured late in the day and had to be evacuated. Lt Murton Swenson became the company commander. By 2100 the troops had advanced into the broad part of the corridor and secured an outpost line stretching across it. The tanks were deployed inside the bivouac areas of the companies they work with.

The next morning, Maj Hansen attacked at 0530 with Charlie Co 99-IB (S) on the left and Baker Co 99-IB (S) on the right. Able Co 99-IB (S) was kept in reserve as it was short one platoon that was guarding the west bank of the Vaart Canal. The tank-infantry teams consisted of about one squad to a tank. Just as the troops were preparing to attack, the enemy opened up with fire from a stone wall or dike that ran at an angle across the corridor. This caused some delay, but then a mist developed, and under its cover the tanks followed by the infantry, advanced right up to the wall, receiving only inaccurate, sporadic fire. The enemy had fled. The tanks now turned left and got west nearly to the Canal to get around the wall. The infantry swung right and advanced northeast with troops on both sides of the wall. When they reached a woods in the vicinity of the road to Reckheim, they waited for the tanks to rejoin them as Maj Hansen felt that a combined tank-infantry attack on the woods would be the cheapest way to reduce the enemy. The tanks arrived after about an hour and the woods were overrun without difficulty. There were three main fights on Sept 17, at Uykhoven, Boorsheim, and
Cothem.

At Uykhoven, Task Force Stokes was opposed to a stubborn resistance that came from young Luftwaffe troops. All of the enemy’s prepared positions faced west and our tanks and infantry flanked these positions by attacking from the south and overwhelming the defenders with the volume of their firepower. A considerable quantity of material was captured at Uykhoven. The rest of How Co 66-AIR and its CO, Lt Johnson, joined the task force had crossed the canal at Smeermaas about 1000. Their arrival was a tremendous help. The two infantry company commanders were able to assign all their men to specific tanks, whereas previously there had not been enough tanks to go around. Their arrival also made possible a well-conceived maneuver whereby Boorsheim, Cothem, and the ‘neck’ of the corridor were secured simultaneously.

Baker Co 99-IB (S) (less 1 Plat.) and a Plat. of How Co 66-AIR were sent to Cothem. Charlie Co 99-IB (S) and How Co 66-AIR (less 1 Plat.) left positions east of Boorsheim while the platoon of light tanks and the remaining rifle platoon of Baker Co 99-IB (S) started to clean Boorsheim. When the two towns were about half cleaned out, Charlie Co 99-IB (S) and How Co 66-AIR (less 1 Plat.) moved straight for the corridor’s ‘neck’ (just east of Mechelen) and secured it with little difficulty. Control of this neck by the hostile forces that might have retreated to it from Boorsheim would have held up our advance and cost us dearly to force a passageway.

About 100 POWs were taken in Boorsheim and about 150 at Cothem. Cothem was the harder fight as there were more troops there and they were protected by fires from across the bend in the Meuse River. A few did escape in boats across the Meuse, but most fought as long as they could and then surrendered. Prisoners were still being gathered in from this area the next morning.

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