8. December 1944: The attack on Gey and getting out of the army
For years there has been a story swirling around that Shoemaker labondend his platoons during the fighting in Gey, exactly one month after his return to F company.
In a (now closed) google discussion group we found the following accusation: “But the two (referring to Shoemaker and one of his good friends Lt. Alson Lancaster) did the same in Germany (Gey, Hurtgenwald) as members of F company were killed. Sergeant Shoemaker was behind (300 metres) and the Lieutenant more than 600 metres.”
A very serious accusation.
What happened on that day?
I found information in an “advanced Infantry Officers Course” written by Major John F. Staples.
“The 2nd Battalion’s plan of attack called for E and F Companies to make a direct frontal assault from the edge of the woods. E Company, on the right, to attack across the open terrain between the West and South legs of town and seize the South and Southeast portions. F company, with the platoon of tanks attached, was to seize the West and North parts of town. G Company was to protect the right flank of the Battalion from positions along the Gey creek near the right limiting point and be prepared to attack Gey from the southwest.
The 2nd Battalion jumped off at 06.00, but ran into difficulty immediately. F Company got a good start and secured the first buildings on the edge of town. E company however was detected before it overran the enemy outpost and heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire caught them in the open area southwest of town. The company continued forward until it ran into barbed wire entanglement which had not been reported by patrols. Unable to advance and suffering casualties from the heavy fire the men sideslipped to the left and became intermingled with F company. With the intermingling both companies became disorganized and the attack bogged down except for some of the leading elements of F Company which had pushed on ahead. By 11.00 hours the leading elements of F company had advanced to a point about 100 yards West of the Gey creek against very determined resistance. The Company Commander (Cpt. Thomas Mitchell; BK), who was with this group, held up the attack because the group was considerably weakened due to casualties and the remainder of the company was not following the assault echelon. Enemy fire was increasing. Machine guns were firing on the attacking troops from positions at the Northern and Southern ends of town. Enemy artillery fire was pounding the western end of town and the edge of the woods with the heaviest artillery and mortar concentrations ever experienced by members of the regiment.
In the meantime the platoon of tanks had been trying to move up on the road leading into town from the West. The road was narrow and muddy and after a great deal of difficulty the lead tank got to within 100 yards of the edge of town where it hit a mine. This happened in a narrow defile where it was impossible to get any other tanks around it. Efforts to get the tank out were started immediately, but because of the difficulty of working in the restricted area under enemy artillery fire the road was not cleared until after dark that night.”
The town of Gey was occupied by, estimated, one Battalion. Another Battalion was situated on the ridge, about 2200 yards to the Northeast. In Gey, German troops had blown holes in the thick walls and used that as a fireport. The basements were used as a hiding place during artillery barrages. Because of minefields on the Grosschau- Gey road, the plans for the tanks and G company were changed: they had to attack Gey from the southwest, coming from Schafberg- Strass. This town had been reported as captured by US troops, but that was a mistake. 2 companies of the 3rdBn/ 330thIR were having a firefight with German troops when the tanks showed up. They became part of the fight and took out 2 enemy tanks and had to withdraw. It bogged down the initial attack on Gey again.
The attack on this town shows the immense difficulty for the troops to enter this village, with an opponent who is dug in very well, using the houses and cellars as perfect protection.
Reading this story, we can conclude that two companies got mixed up during the first fight when entering Gey, making it difficult for the leaders to instruct/ command the troops.
The hard accusations, made by someone of the 83rdID/ 331st regiment could also be a reference to the part that Shoemaker was hospitalised in Carentan. Shoemaker and Lt. Lancaster led their platoons, but stayed behind: Shoemaker was 300 meters behind his men. If my hypothesis is correct, it is possible Shoemaker froze to the ground and was not able to lead his platoons.
We read that F company was halted approximately 100 meters west of the Gey creek. “The Company Commander who was with this group, held up the attack because the group was considerably weakened due to casualties and the remainder of the company was not following the assault echelon.”
I found a Hospital Admission Card for December 1944, saying Shoemaker was wounded at his hand by machine gun fire. But I cannot find this incident back in the Morning Reports.
The last battles and returning home.
In February the 331st regiment had a long pause, using the time for training and exercise.
After that, the regiment attacked the Neuss/ Germany area.
On 4 March they moved to Neuss, where the company is outposting the Erft Canal.
On 7 and 8 March the screening of civilians continued. Training began by all battalions in assault boats and street fighting.
On 8 March Harry is mentioned again in the morning report: “ …to be dropped from assignment as of 7 March 1945 to 113th Evac Hosp.”
In his Hospital Admission Card we found: “Diagnosis: Fracture, compound, comminuted with no nerve or artery involvement; Location: Phalanges of index finger; Causative Agent: Bullet, Pistol or Revolver.”
It was the last time he left the 83rd Infantry Division. He would never return as a soldier.
Before JAG could ask him about the massacre in Ottré, they could not contact him and they were looking for him.
– On 15 June 1945 there is a letter stating that he is in “1127 Ser. Unit, Patience Det., Lovell Convalescent and General Hospital Ft. Devon, MA.”
– In a letter dated 22 June 1945, it is advised to look for him at Fort Devon, Cushing General Hospital, Framingham, Massachusetts; and hospitals at Camp Edwards/ MA.
– On 19th July 1945 he was in the Station Hospital, Camp Shanks, New York
– In a letter from 4 October 1945 it says he was transferred to Lowell General Hospital, Fort Devens, Massachusetts.
I tried to find out if the above mentioned hospitals had a psychiatric unit. In June 2021 I had brief contact with the museum of Fort Devens Lovell Hospital. They said they would try to find out if there was a psychiatric unit in 1945. In November they got back to me and confirmed what I thought. “Fort Devens Lovell Hospital did have a psychiatric ward, as did most larger Army hospitals. It is likely that Harry Shoemaker saw some horrors of war. After he received treatment in France, he may have been a hospital helper at Fort Devens. Or a patient.”
© Bob Konings