Audie Murphy gets second Silver Star in three days

A US Army mortar team in Italy, earlier in the war.
A US Army mortar team in Italy, earlier in the war.

Alongside the French troops approaching the Germans in the Vosges region were the US 3rd Infantry Division. Amongst their number were Company B, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, already veterans of Sicily and Italy. In the densely wooded area they were held up by a German strongpoint at L’Omet quarry in the Cleurie river valley.

A publicity shot of Audie Murphy after he began his film career.
A publicity shot of Audie Murphy after he began his film career.

On 2nd October Platoon Sergeant Audie Murphy of had successfully led his patrol in the ambush of a German machine gun post, for which he was awarded the Silver Star. He had already been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his gallantry during the Allied landings in southern France on 15th August. He describes the situation that his division faced on 5th October:

The troublesome spot is finally recognized for what it is: a point, consisting of a few acres of ground, so strategically located and fanatically defended that nothing short of a full-scale assault can eliminate it. While we hold the lines, phases of the attack are co-ordinated by tired, worried officials of the division.

Our armor pours five hundred rounds of high explosives into the quarry. At the same time a saturation mortar barrage is laid on the area. When the fire lifts, we drive up the slopes and are again hit hard by the fanatical enemy.

A battalion, heavily supported by artillery, tries a flanking movement while we remain in a blocking position. For a whole afternoon and night, the battle rages. The next day my company gets its orders to jump off. Under a creeping mortar barrage, we scramble up the hill, by-pass the quarry proper, and go over the crest. The ugly job of cleaning out the quarry has been assigned to other units.

But the Germans are full of surprises. Before night, my company is pinned to a hillside. The krauts, who usually choose elevations for defensive stands, have fooled us in this instance. They have dug in by a dry stream bed at the base of the slope. Trees, cut and arranged in haphazard crisscross patterns, completely conceal their positions. They let us move over the hilltop, and then tear into our ranks with rifle and machine-gun fire.

Mist gathers in the lowland, further hindering visibility. Crawling over the slope on our bellies, we try to pry out the enemy locations. But the camouflage is perfect. There is but one thing to do. I borrow a walkie-talkie radio and start maneuvering a patrol down the hill.

A tense silence comes over the area. Phantomlike, we slip through the trees with senses alert for an ambush. Brrrrrp. A man carrying two cases of machine-gun ammo is hit in the side. He lets out a scream and collapses. The metal cases clatter on the rocky ground.

Immediately our position is swept with fire from five machine guns. The bullets zip three feet from the ground. We lie on our backs, seize our trench shovels, and frantically start scooping holes in the stony soil.

The Germans lower their angle of fire. A man is hit in the chest. Pieces of his lungs spatter the ground. His flesh quivers; and he gurgles, “Oh God, oh God.” Two men rip off his shirt. A blast catches them. They sink over the wounded man and are still.

It was at this point that Murphy went forward alone and radioed the co-ordinates of the German positions to the mortar crews further back. He briefly describes this part of the episode in his memoirs – but he maintained this position for over an hour while under continuous direct fire from the Germans. Eventually the mortar fire overcame the German position after fifteen were killed and thirty five wounded.

Murphy was awarded the Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his Silver Star for this incident. Shortly afterwards he received a battlefield commission. On the 26th October he was wounded by sniper fire and hospitalised – but not before he had shot the sniper between the eyes. This is another episode described in Audie Murphy: To Hell and Back. Although he contracted gangrene in this wound it was still not the end of his war.

US Army mortar team in action.
US Army mortar team in action.

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