3RD CAVALRY GROUP (MECHANIZED)
During WWII the 3rd Cavalry Group was a reconnaissance element of the XX Corps, U.S. 3rd Army. Composed of the 43rd Cavalry Squadron and the 3rd Cavalry Squadron, they had fought their way across France and into the German frontier by the Fall of 1944. Equipped with machine-guns mounted on jeeps, 60mm mortars, M-8 "Greyhound" armored cars, self-propelled howitzers and M24 "Chaffee" tanks, these versatile and highly mobile units screened the XX Corp's movements, performed observation work, and when the occasion demanded carried out attacks on enemy positions.
Holding the High Ground at Riol
March 12-14, 1945
The following is an excerpt from the History of "The 3rd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mecz.) in World War II, 9 August 1944 to 9 May 1945" written for the U.S. Army in 1949:
"12 Mar.-As part of the Corps plan of attack the 16th Cavalry Group was attached to the 3rd Group forming the 316th Provisional Brigade. The mission was to seize and hold the enemy strongpoint at Osburg. The first step was taken by the 43rd Squadron the morning of the 12th when with two troops they advanced to seize the high ground to their south and east with particular reference to hills 407 and 421. They did not encounter much ground opposition but did receive intense artillery, rocket and nebelwerfer fire. As they were the only force attacking on the whole Corps front at this time, the enemy was able to concentrate all of his available artillery against them. However, shortly afterwards B Troop of the 3rd Squadron attacked with Hill 425 as their objective. Mounted on a platoon of tanks they moved out at 1030. Progress was slow due to intense artillery fire which the enemy had rapidly shifted to meet this new threat. Moving southeast one tank hit a mine and was put out of action while the others under heavy artillery fire were temporarily forced to fall back to Riol. Starting out again at 1400 B Troop again met heavy enemy fire as they moved forward, but they continued to advance until they encountered a road block which they could not reduce immediately. Engineers were sent up, however, and after they had demolished the block the Troop moved forward again and occupied hill 425 where they dug themselves in for the night. C Troop was relieved and moved to an assembly area at Longuich. The 12th had been a busy one for the Germans. In addition to contending with our attacks, their artillery had literally rained shells upon the Group sector, about 3,700 rounds of artillery, 350 rounds of rocket fire and 200 of mortars were received, which actually totaled more than was falling on the rest of the Corps front. It was the highest ever recorded by the 3rd Cavalry Group in a single day.
13 Mar.-During the night enemy activity had been limited to moderate harassing fire and flares. A slight amount of vehicular activity had been reported. At 0840 our front came to sudden life as a force of three enemy tanks supported by approximately fifty infantrymen launched an attack against our positions. The attack was preceded by a barrage of some 250 rounds of artillery. The troops were forced to withdraw slightly from the east side of the hill which they were holding because of the intensity of the barrage. We fell back to a position from which we were better able to repel an attack of this nature. Our own tanks which were sent to the top of the hill met an abnormal amount of bazooka fire and were forced to pull back to the reverse side of the slope. Two of the tanks had been struck by enemy fire. As the German tanks strove to drive us from the crest of the hill, we opened up with every available weapon including the TDs and the 37s on the armored cars. So effective was our fire that one enemy tank was knocked out. The [German] officer in command was killed and the other tanks were obliged to pull back to the east. No German succeeded in reaching the high ground. By 1000 the attack had been repulsed with no loss of ground. The full extent of the German casualties could not be determined. We had lost two officers and one enlisted man killed, thirteen men wounded, one armored car had been knocked out in addition to the two tanks. These small quick thrusts by the enemy were not gaining any ground but they were inflicting heavy casualties on our troops and were especially harassing. This attack was outstanding for its fierceness and its intensity. After the attack had been repulsed B Troop reorganized on the high ground. It was believed that the enemy might make another attempt to gain control of the hill and C Troop was sent to reinforce B. On the following day C took over and allowed the others to assemble in Riol. On the hill above Riol our troops had been dismounted and had acted as doughboys. They were fed from tanks that moved from foxhole to foxhole. For protection against the terrific enemy shelling, the B Troop CP was set up in a medium tank. A formidable perimeter defense was organized utilizing tanks, armored cars and TDs. From positions on the ridge we had excellent observation. In the afternoon, A Troop sent combat patrols out of Fastrau to probe in the direction of Fell to see if it would be possible to occupy the town. The patrols advanced to a point from which they could watch the town of Neiderfell as well as the road which lead into it. They observed an eight-man enemy patrol as it entered a mill situated on the road north of the village. Our patrols continued to probe the Fell area for additional avenues of approach. At 1700 the enemy launched another counter-attack. F Company laid down a wall of fire on about sixty Germans and soon broke the assault. About 25 of the attacking force were killed and eight more were taken prisoner. The few that remained fled in haste and made no further attempt to take our positions. We suffered no casualties. Later in the afternoon C Troop advanced east to seize an important crossroad. They had not gone far before they received direct fire from an 88 which was covering a road block. It was impossible to remove the block as the enemy had excellent observation and was placing direct fire on it. C Troop, forced to pull back, planned to resume the attack the following morning after the Engineers had had a chance to reduce the road block under cover of darkness.
14 Mar.-On the morning of the 14th, the Squadron received orders to attack and seize the town of Fell. An assault force consisting of one platoon from A Troop and a platoon of tanks attacked from the north along the Fastrau-Fell road working their way along both sides of the road. As they moved up they were followed by Engineers who swept the road. The tanks followed in close support. By noon they had advanced to Neiderfell. So far they had encountered no enemy resistance. However, in attempting to move out of Neiderfell toward Fell, they received heavy machine gun fire from a road block located between the two towns. The block, a large crater, was defended by German heavy machine guns. The tank-dozer was immediately brought up and as soon as the crater had been filled, our forces overran the defenders and moved on into Fell against small arms fire only. The town was occupied by 1430. The rest of the afternoon was spent in ferreting out enemy from cellars and various other hiding places. The enemy continued to hold the high ground south of the town and harassed our troops with small arms fire as they moved about."
PFC. JAMES F. THOMAS, JR.
TROOP B, 3RD CAVALRY RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON (MECHANIZED), 3RD CAVALRY GROUP
Twenty-seven year old James F. Thomas, Jr. of St. Charles, Virginia was inducted into the Army in June of 1944 and took his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. He joined Troop B, 3rd Cavalry Squadron in December, 1944 as a replacement. A log book, now in possession of his family, states the B Troop commander was Capt. Baldwin, his platoon leader Lt. Dye, and his platoon sergeant Wesley Taylor. His discharge indicates he was military specialties were mortar gunner and combat vehicle gunner. During the fighting at Riol, Germany on or about March 12, 1945 Pfc. James Thomas was seriously wounded in the shoulder. According to his daughter, Lydia Smith of Dandridge, Tennessee, James told his sister after the war that:
"he was left behind for dead by his platoon, but he came to later that night and wondered around all night and found his platoon the next morning. He didn't remember doing that and they told him it was a miracle they found him. He eventually passed through five Army hospitals before he was discharged at Camp Pickett, Virginia."
James F. Thomas, Jr. passed away in 1961 reportedly due to a blood clot in his heart while working at the Y-12 plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He was making precision parts for nuclear weapons for the U.S. Government at the height of the Cold War. His family members believe his wound from the fighting at Riol contributed too, if not actually caused, his death sixteen years later.
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