Corporal of Horse John Jenkins, a forgotten hero.

This is the story of Corporal of Horse John Jenkins. A story that needs to be told.
In October 2017 I was guiding around 4 Englishmen of the Household Cavalry, one (Major Brian Rogers) still in active duty. Just a few days before their tour, Brian asked me if we could take a detour to the town of Rochefort, because a few men of the Household Cavalry were there on December 23rd 1944, during the German attack on that town. A great and unknown story was waiting for us…

December 1944
On  December 23rd 1944, companies I & K of the 335th regiment/ 84th Infantry Division got trapped by German troops of Panzer Lehr in the town of Rochefort. They were following their way towards Dinant and Marche, crushing the towns of Grupont and Tellin. Rochefort had to be taken, because of the road that led towards Dinant and after that, the Meuse was in reach .

On this same day the British 29th Armoured Brigade arrived at the Namur, Dinant and Givet bridges, along with 50 tanks, shielding the western flank, which had remained open until that moment.

December 24rd 1944
Company K was sent in the direction of Tellin/ Grupont and company I was sent to Rochefort. Because of the German advance both companies were brought into Rochefort.
With two companies of the 84th in and around Rochefort, German troops of Panzer Lehr headed to the outskirts of the town and a patrol was sent into town. They thought the town was empty. If only they had looked carefully, they would have found that the 3rd battalion of the 335th regiment/84thID, together with a platoon of 4 tankdestroyers, one anti-tank company, an engineers platoon and a platoon of the 29th Infantry Division, who got lost in the area, were waiting in the center of town. They had taken position in and around a big hotel (Hotel Biron) Around 0200 hrs, 24 December , Oberst. Lt. Joachim Ritter led his 902nd Panzergrenadiers assault unit with two II/PzRgt.130 companies into town, but the attack was halted when a heavy fusillade broke out at a massive barricade. In the early morning, German tanks approached and fired short range at the hotel. Several jeeps and two British reconnaissance cars, in front of the hotel, were destroyed.  All crew members of one 57mm gun, out-posting the building, were killed by artillery fire. Meanwhile, men of the 902nd PZgrenadiers were sent around the town, to seek for a passage over the River “L’Homme”.
They found a bridge and thus the road (route de Dinant) to Dinant lay wide open.
Around 0900 hrs radio contact was lost and both companies were in a lot of trouble. Four hours later, one message reached HQ in Marche and an order was given by General Bolling to withdraw.
The fighting lasted the rest of the day.

The panzergrenadiers took a high loss of men and one heavy jagdpanzer was knocked out near the central square. The 84thID only had 25 men killed and 15 men wounded, after holding off vanknocked-out-jagdpanther-rochefort elite panzer division for an entire day.
The American troops were ordered to move out between 0600 and 0930 hrs towards Jemelle. One of the sergeants of the tank destroyers came back with the news that this town had been occupied by German troops. To get the troops safely out of the attacked village, smoke grenades were thrown into the streets and undercover of that smoke, the troops  moved out on the double.
According to Lt. Carpenter, he lead his 150 men (80 men of company K, 60 men of company I and a few men from other units) out over a railroadtrack for about 1000 yards, arriving at a wooded area. The troops reorganized and another thousands yards were made until they met a 2,5 truck, that got away from Rochefort. The driver agreed to take the men down the Rochefort – Wanlin road to a point where the bridge was out, (village of Eprave?) about 2 miles further on. A civilian then told them that the Germans were ahead of them, so Carpenter decided to leave the road. The truck took off to Dinant with 30 volunteers, taking the risk of being caught by enemy troops.
About 800 yards further one, civilians told them that US troops were closeby in the town of Wanlin. Shortly after this message was given the men were picked up with trucks and brought to Givet.

This is the story from US side. They only forgot to mention one thing. A good reader has noticed something strange in the story above. Let’s rephrase it for you: “Several jeeps and two British reconnaissance cars, in front of the building, were destroyed.
Two British reconnaissance cars?! Where did they came from?
Let’s head back to the Dinant area, a few days earlier.

The British 29th Armoured Brigade had returned to it’s battleworn tanks and armoured cars and was established along the River between Namur and Givet. The 2nd Household Cavalry Lt-Col-H-A-Smith,-CO-of-2nd-Household-Cavalry-Regiment,-arrives-in-his-Staghound-armoured-carRegiment, already on the river line for the past twenty four hours, crossed the Meuse and pushed reconnaissance as far as Marche and Rochefort, meeting American patrols but no enemy. By the close of the day, General Horrocks could decide and did, that now it was possible to hold the enemy at the Meuse line.The British responsibility, be it remembered, extended only as far south of Givet…” (Hugh Cole).
We would never argue with Mr Hugh Cole’s excellent work. But we will make an exception, because (Thanks to Major Brian Rogers), we found a slightly different version.

There are better ways of spending Christmas Eve than having to enter enemy country in search of information and be compelled to stay there for the night, but this was the role which Corporal-of-Horse (John; BK) Jenkins and his driver, Trooper Beckett, of C Squadron, were destined to play, and did so with some distinction.
The reconnaissance was done with a half section of two cars. CoH Jenkins had with him Corporal Chennel and Trooper Gardner in the Daimler armoured car. In the other Dingoscout car were Corporal Mansell and Trooper Beckett. Their goal: find out if Rochefort was still in American hands.
On reaching a small hamlet about a mile from Rochefort, it was apparent that heavy fighting was in progress, but it was impossible to see whether the troops in occupation of the town were Americans or Germans. Leaving the (Daimler) armoured car in charge of Corporal Mansell with orders to wait unless summoned forward by british-firefly-patrolling-in-Namurwireless, Jenkins and Beckett drove into Rochefort from the West, but in the meantime the Germans converged towards the Meuse from two sides and Mansell was eventually ordered to retire, shadowing the enemy.

In Rochefort, CoH Jenkins discovered that the US troops were beating back German infantry troops, who were supported by Tiger tanks and heavy artillery.
335th veteran Allan Howerton who mentions a Reconnaissance car in his memoires: “Juenger recalled a British reconnaissance car pulling up about the time the bridge went up in smoke: ‘I first thought it was a German,’ he said, ‘but a British major stuck his head and shoulders out the top and said ‘bloody miserable day Yank.’ I said you got that right or something to that effect. (Then) a shell from the other sideof the river went over our heads and all he said was ‘cheerio Yank,’ spun around and took off. I was able to let him know that there was nothing between us and the Germans but a blown bridge.” Allan Howerton told me this British major showed up in the town of Chanly (about 15km from Rochefort). We could not find British troops in that town on that day. But fellow researcher Ben McGregor did! Although not related with this story, we will tell it anyway:
On 24 December when his patrol reached Beauraing, they were asked by the American officer in command there to go forward to give the order for a bridge over the Lesse, 10 miles away ahead, to be blown. The American officer only had jeeps  with him which he did not wish to send forward as there were reported to be tanks in the area. As the American officer stressed the urgency of the bridge being blown, Corporal Mulcahy without hesisation, drove forward to the bridge at 40 mph, and in spite of being fired on by an enemy tank, contacted the officer on the spot, and the bridge was blown.

The fighting lasted till dusk and by that time the US troops had been reduced to about one company. The 335th regiment and the two men of the Household Cavalry were driven back to the surroundings of the huge hotel, “Hotel Biron”, in the center of the town. During the night, the troops of Panzer Lehr attacked several times, without any progress. But, all American vehicles and Jenkins’ scout car were destroyed. The American commander (Lt Carpenter?) decided, because of the losses and running out of ammo, that it would be wise to retreat out of the battered town and withdraw to the British Lines.
Corporal of Horse John Jenkins had gained local knowledge, during the previous days of reconnaissance and “in view of this, the American commander decided to entrust half of what remained of his company to him. Jenkins then reconnoitred under heavy fire the proposed line of retreat, and in so doing discovered a railwayline not yet covered by enemy machine guns.
Without the loss of one single man, CoH Jenkins led the about 50 men through German Lines, all the way to the British outposts at Givet, about twelve miles away. The Americans were most impressed by his map reading and field craft!

In October 1945 CoH Jenkins and Tpr Beckett were Mentioned in Dispatches and CoH Jenkins was subsequently awarded the Croix de Guerre.  He was also recommended for the US Silver star. (29th June 1945)
“….In the course of the American withdrawl his troop and a party of about 50 Americans were cut off by the enemy. Although there was an officer present CofH Jenkins took complete command of the party and, organising them into a fighting formation, led them safely through the German Lines, owing to this NCOs complete disregard for personal safety and his display of great bravery and initiative he was responsible for saving many Allied lives.”
Signed: R. A. Hull, Major General 5 Div and B G Horrocks, Cmdr 30 Corps.

CoH John Jenkins allegedly refused the Silver Star.

Many thanks to:  Major Brian Rogers (Household Cavalry) who came up with the story and who provided a lot of material.  And  a big thanks to Ben McGregor, WW2 researcher/ British side for providing sidematerials!

 

Used sources:
* Hugh M. Cole – the Ardennes, the battle of the bulge
* Elite Panzer Strike Force: Germany’s Panzer Lehr Divisionin World War II- Franz Kurowski
* Panzer Divisions 1944–45- Pier Paolo Battistelli
* A Tour of the Bulge Battlefields- William C C Cavanagh, Karl Cavanagh
* Memoires of Lt Leonard Carpenter, company K, 335th reg/ 84thID
* After Action report 335th regiment, 84thID
* Testimony of Allan Howerton/ 84thID veteran
* History of the Second Household Cavalry  Regiment- Gale & Polden
* 2HCR War Diary and Intelligence Report

© Bob Konings