The Ottre Massacre – The tanks in the field

Chapter 11. The tanks in the field
It is said two or three tanks were knocked out when they tried to reach the pinned down men of F company. By accident we got four IDPF’s which gave a lot more information about what happened to the crews.
The IDPF’s were from T4 Arnold A. Pfaff/ 37323733, Sgt. Daniel P. Liptrap/ 6994527;  Pfc. Ralph M. Hammond/ 34889389 and one IDPF of unknown remains, named “X-168”.
The above EM (Enlisted Men) were members of Co B, 774th Tank Battalion, when they were KIA on January 10 1945, near Ottré, Belgium. Sgt. Liptrap was riding in one of Co B’s tanks while Sgt Pfaff and Pfc Hammond were crew members of another one of Co B tank. The After Action Report for 774th Tank Battalion states that its 1st Platoon supported the 3rdBn. 331st Inf. Regt at Ottré and 2nd Platoon supported 2ndBn, 331st between Hebronval and Ottré, Belgium. Two tanks were reported lost.”
Pfaff and Hammond were reported MIA and an extensive search began to find the two men. The search lasted until 1950.
According to the IDPF of Liptrap, his body was evacuated from the turret by the Graves Registration Service.
In a statement dated 19 july 1950, of Alphonse Beaudoin, the former Mayor’s assistant, we read: “I know that during the German attack two American tanks were disabled near Ottré, several American soldiers were killed and were lying near the tanks. I also know that one or two soldiers were charred in the tanks. To my knowledge, the charred remains that were left in the tanks were not evacuated, but the American Graves Registration may have evacuated them without informing the Communal Authorities. These tanks were cut and removed by a civilian scrap dealer over two years ago.
The mayor himself stated: “…to my knowledge two or three American tanks were destroyed during the combat which took place between Ottré and Langlire (Petite) at the place called “Croix Jean Mathieu” in the territory of Bihain. These tanks were cut up and removed by “CINDA”. (comptoir industriel & agricole société)
Farmer Joseph Marechal declared: “I have seen two American tanks, burning near my farm on the 10 January 1945. Another tank was also disabled in the vicinity, a tank destroyer was set near my house on 11 January 1945. I saw human remains lying near the burned tanks several months after the war. In my opinion, these remains were not recovered.

774th Tank Battalion in the vicinity of Bovigny, Januari 1945

The man who researched this matter, Howard E. Ephraim, wrote his conclusion on 19 july 1950. The lines about Mr. Joseph Marechal in particular are very interesting.
Mr. Marechals’ house was used as protective cover by the tanks engaged in the battle under consideration. At the time eight American soldiers were in the cellar. He saw on 10 January 1945 two American tanks crippled and burning alongside his farm. Another tank was immobilized nearby and is believed to have been knocked out by a mine. A Tank-destroyer was located alongside the house. (11 January 1945). A few months after the end of the war he saw some scattered bones lying alongside the tanks. Mr. Marechal was wounded and evacuated from the 12 January to the 18 February and does not know what happened during this period.
A search on the same spot did not result in any finds.

But wait!

Marechal stated something very startling! “At the time eight American soldiers were in the cellar.”
I will tell you about that later!

The road leading to Langlire; on the left is the Marechal farm.

Ephraim also contacted the contractor of “CINDA” in Ans (near Liege). The director stated: “We have provided our undertakers with accurate instructions, in view to carry out the dismantling of the U.S. Army wrecks (due to war) most carefully and as such, further instructions have been given to them in view to pick up any possible object pertaining to any U.S. Army member.”
The conclusion of the researchers is clear: “It is recommended that the remains, based upon the above information and research, be declared non-recoverable.
On 31 January 1951 the widow of Daniel Liptrap was informed that “It is with deep regret that your Government finds it necessary to inform you that further search and investigation have failed to reveal the whereabouts of your husband’s remains. Since all efforts to recover and/or identify his remains, it has been necessary to declare that his remains are not recoverable.

During the search for the crewmembers, there was a lot of confusion and miscommunication. At the temporary cemetery of Foy, the Graves Registration Service (GRS) had found dog tags belonging to Marvin W. Herman/ 6994597 who supposedly was buried there on 2 may 1945. Investigation did reveal that this man was repatriated alive to the U.S. on 3 May 1945. (source: IDPF “X-168”). Apparently the dog tags of Marvin were found in or near one of the tanks.
Investigation of the remains of “X-168” linked them to one of the three men of B company/ 774thTB. But there were only a few body parts left for investigation and they could not make a 100% clearance that the body parts belonged to one of the three men. “The subject remains were recovered from either tank #30100027 or #30100215. Two ID tags from Martin W. Herman were found near remains in either tank and put on a body. Investigation revealed that Martin W. Herman was not a casualty but was a crew member of the tank in which T/4 Pfaff and Pfc. Hammond were crew members. Sgt. Liptrap was a crew member of another tank.”
We found Pfc. Marvin W. Herman back in the AAR/ 774thTB as Wounded In Action, reported on 11 January 1945.
In the IDPF of Liptrap we found that the investigators could not find any remains. In the IDPF of “X-168” other investigators could link up found remains with Marvin Herman, a crewmember of the same tank of Pfaff and Hammond.
Investigator Francis J. Duffy of IDPF  “X-168” also had contact with Societe “CINDA” in Ans. The commercial director repeated that all contractors were specifically instructed that when remains or ID tags were found, the GRS was to be notified.

In the IDPF of Hammond, we read in a letter that Hammond was a cannoneer in the tank, which was hit by enemy direct fire and burned.
In the IDPF of Hammond we found two statements of what happened:
2d platoon of Co B, 774th Tank Bn supporting 2d Bn 331st Inf Regt, 83d Inf Div, with mission to assault and take enemy strong points in the vicinity of Ottré, Belgium. At 1100, 10 January 1945 the platoon attacked in line formation, eliminating one strong point, but in moving for position encountered direct fire from concealed enemy tanks. The first round hit the Platoon Sergeant’s tank, whose crew was composed of: (S/Sgt Lloyd M. Merritt, 35162053-  Tank Commander, Tec 4 Arnold A. Pfaff, 37323733- Tank Gunner, Pfc. Ralph M. Hammond, 34889389- Cannoneer, Pfc. Marvin Herman, 6994597- Tank driver, Infantry Officer (identity Unknown, but this must be Lt. Alson Lancaster/ F company.) – Light machine gunner and observer), causing the tank to burst in flames. The second round about ten second interval entered the pistol port on the left side, causing the flames to increase in intensity. At once the platoon withdrew to a defensive position, until enemy direct fire weapons were eliminated, then proceeded to accomplish the mission.”

And we have the statement of Richard M. Fuller, Co B/ 774th Tank Battalion:
I saw the first round of enemy fire hit the platoon sergeant’s tank in the left turret ring, hitting two infantry soldiers riding on the rear of the tank, one rolling off the tank into the snow and the other slumping down on the rear of the tank. The tank burst into flames upon being hit. The second round entered the pistol port on the left side of the turret, causing the flames to increase in intensity. The platoon sergeant appeared in the turret, flames seemed to envelop him and he disappeared from sight, inside the tank. Shortly after I saw someone too black to identify appear from the turret and fall out over the right side of the tank and roll over in the snow. I also saw an Infantry Officer and Pfc. Marvin W. Herman run around the side of the tank making their escape down the hill, away from machine gun fire. I saw no one else get out of the tank. The tank burned until the next day.”

On october 17th 1949, Richard Fuller wrote a full statement:
On the morning of jan. 10th 1945, about 07.30 AM we advanced to the scene of action in a five tank section, about two kilometers out of Ottré, Belgium. Sgt. Daniel P. Liptrap with Pfc. Ralph M. Hammond as his bow gunner were in the tank on my right and Sgt. Max Merritt as tank commander of the tank on my left with T/4 Arnold Pfaff as Sgt. Merritt’s gunner. First, Sgt. Merritt’s tank was hit by a battery 88’s and known to have killed Sgt. Merritt and T/4 Arnold Pfaff. As Sgt. Merritt attempted to climb out of his turret, I saw him burst into flames and fly out of the tank in pieces. After dark the night of Jan. 10th, I returned in the company with Corp. Hodonski to the tank and found the gunner Arnold Pfaff burned to a cinder and still sitting in the gunner’s seat. It was impossible to identify him except that he was the only individual in the tank who would have occupied this position.
Almost immediately that morning after Merritt’s tank was hit, Sgt. Liptrapp’s tank was hit occupying the position on my left and his tank burst into flames, throwing Sgt. Liptrap into the snow on the ground where he remained motionless but burning. The night of the 10th when I returned after dark, I also visited this tank and had a positive identification of Sgt. Liptrap because of seeing his gold teeth which were so familiar to me. Aside from the gold teeth, he was so badly burned that no other identification was possible. Pfc. Hammond was beyond a doubt the body in the bow gun seat due to the fact that he was a replacement and other positions were filled by experienced men.”

Deze afbeelding heeft een leeg alt-attribuut; de bestandsnaam is Sgt-Lloyd-Max-Merritt.jpg
Sgt. Lloyd Max Merritt, KIA 10 January 1945

Pfc. Marvin W. Herman stated on 30 January 1945 : “Upon receiving enemy direct fire, the platoon sergeant ordered me to withdraw, and while backing up the tank was hit, setting it on fire. I was stunned but remember trying to get out, but could not get my hatch open. Due to the flames I blacked out and do not remember anything until discovering myself lying in the snow in front of the tank. I then made my escape around the side of the tank and down the hill, because the machine gun fire laid down by the enemy. I know of no else escaping from the tank. We were first hit at 13.30 10 Jan 1945.
About 24 hours later 1st Lt Drew O. Verheyden, company B, 774th Tank Battalion searched the area and tank finding and identifying S/Sgt Lloyd M. Merritt (KIA) lying on the ground on the right side of the tank and William Sloan (Infantry-KIA) lying on the rear of the tank. A thorough search of the surrounding area was made, but no trace of either was found.
” (meaning Lipptrap and Pfaff)

Stanley E. Gehrke, crew member of Lipptrap’s tank, stated on october 12 1949:
Sgt. Liptrap’s crew members were, to my knowledge, Lee R. Hooker/ 38079553; Monroe D. Osborne, 35266056; Wallace Skaggs, 35266152, also later KIA; Harold H. Rogstad, 37018169. Sgt. Liptrap’s tank was close, perhaps 50 -75 yards from Sgt. Merritt’s tank and both were hit by the same anti-tank gun. […]. I personally made the check the following morning of these men, although they were listed MIA because of conflicting reports the evening before I changed Sgt. Liptrap to KIA because I viewed his body in the turret of the tank. Approximately a day or so later, Capt. Cecil Evans, graves registration officer for our battalion evacuated the body, or at least he told me he did.
Tec 4 Pfaff and Pfc. Hammond were members of Sgt. Merritt’s tank and when it got hit by the anti-tank gun, it immediately burst into flames. Sgt. Merritt was the only one to get out of the turret of the tank, only to succumb to the flames just a few feet from his tank, with the only identification being his wallet which happened to remain intact because that part of his body was in the snow. I mention this because Pfaff and Hammond were also in the turret of the tank and upon crawling into the turret to find them, I couldn’t even find any bones. However, since I could not prove anything, though in my own mind, I knew they were dead. I listed them MIA.The tank driver, Marvin W. Herman, ASN 6994597, and an infantry officer were in the bow of the tank and only injured.

Fuller is mentioning two infantry soldiers, one riding on the back of Merrit’s tank and another one in the tank. This could have been Hershell McIntosh and Lt. Alson E. Lancaster, company F. McIntosh was manning the .30 cal machine gun and shooting at everything that moved on the enemy side. McIntosh got seriously wounded after the tank got hit.
In 2011 I had contact with the family of Lt. Alson Lancaster. In a later conversation with a son of Lancaster, he stated that his father wrote a letter on January 11th 1945 to his wife from the 76th General Hospital. “I was in the tank, we reached the top of the hill and I was trying to find what was ahead of us. Then a Jerry tank let us have it. Also two other US Tanks were hit. The one I was in burst in instant flames. The driver and I were the only ones that escaped”.
He was awarded the bronze star for his actions on January 10th 1945.

The third tank was a tank destroyer, belonging to A company of the 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Sergeant Harvey N. Bradford and T/5 George A. Suprek were reported as MIA. Until this day there are on the tablets of the missing at Ardennes American
Cemetery/ Condroz.

© Bob Konings

12. Prisoners of War >>>>>

A 740thTB tank gets a whiteswash in the hamlet of Joubiéval.