SERGEANT JOHN I. BATE was born in NJ in 1916 to Luke and Charlotte Bate. In 1930 the family owned a home on Haddon Avenue near Hudson Avenue in West Berlin NJ, and his father was working as a carpenter. Beside John Bate and his parents, the family included sisters Charlotte, Emma, and Evelyn. Luke Bate was a farmer, and John Bate worked the farm with his father before his induction into the Army on December 16, 1942.
Sergeant John I. Bate was killed in action on January 1, 1945 at the age of 28 at Rimling, Germany while serving with Company K, 397th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division.
Survived by his parents and sisters, his death was reported in the April 2, 1945 edition of the Camden Courier-Post. After the war, his body was returned to the United States, and he was buried at Berlin Cemetery in Berlin NJ on May 29, 1948.
American Stubbornness at Rimling
As the US Seventh Army shifted units to cover the gap created by the departing Third Army divisions that were being moved into the Ardennes during December 1944, the 44th and 100th Divisions, on the western flank of the Seventh Army, were extended to cover the front lines. Each division was assigned 17 to 18 kilometers of front. The 44th (Cactus) Division, defending from Welferding to just west of of the village of Rimling, covered ground that was mostly open, rolling hills, although the center of its front provided shallow patches of dense vegetation. The 100th Infantry (Century) Division's sector varied from open, undulating farmland in the east to craggy draws and ridges in the center and west.
Holding the left wing of the 100th Division, was the 397th Infantry, commanded by Colonel John M. King. Here, from the critical junction at the town of Rimling, roads branched out throughout the Century Division’s sector to Gros Rederching, Rohrbach (via Guising), and Petit Rederching (via Bettviller).
Initially, the operations staff of German Army Group G planned to conduct the main attack of Operation Nordwind through the Low Vosges with four volksgrenadier divisions, a mountain division, and a panzer division, starting from the line Bitche-Neunhoffen, advancing south to the Wingen-Ingwiller road. A supporting attack was to be made by the XIII SS Korps to penetrate American lines near the village of Rimling and drive south towards Phalsbourg. This assault was intended to open the way for German panzer forces into the open ground west of the Low Vosges and split the Seventh Army's front. The German corps included the recently reconstituted 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, two volksgrenadier divisions, and a battalion of heavy tank destroyers.
On the last day of 1944, the 3rd Battalion, 397th Infantry Regiment, was holding positions around the village of Rimling. The 1st Platoon of Company K was dug in on a bare summit called Schlietzen Hill, northwest of the town. The hill was the highest peak in the area, commanding the ground to its west and north. To the south it extended in a long low ridge for two or three kilometers south of Rimling. Just east of the 1st Platoon was the 2nd Platoon with positions that covered the road entering Rimling from the north and were the northernmost positions of the battalion. The positions of the 3rd Platoon ran southwest along the road and ridge and then turned east to include the north edge of Rimling.
The east-end of Rimling was held by Company L. Its lines extended eastward along the road between Rimling and Epping-Urbach to the junction with the north-south road between the towns of Guderkirch and Bettviller. From there the Company L positions turned east for about a half kilometer into open ground to the right of the junction.
The 1st Battalion, 397th, on the right flank of the regiment, extended about two kilometers east of the 3rd Battalion. Company I, in support, formed defensive positions running east and west just south of Rimling. The heavy mortars of Company M were set up in a dry creek bed southeast of Rimling, to the rear of Company L. The 2nd Battalion was in reserve, with Company F west of Guising, Company G south of Guising on hills above the Gare de Rohrbach, and Company E deployed around the road junction west of the Rohrbach railway station.
Because the 397th had been in position for a few days, their foxholes were deep and roofed with logs and earth. December snow provided a covering which made them almost invisible. There had been a warning from Division G-2 a couple of days prior to January 1, that the Germans were likely to launch an attack sometime around New Year's. This caused the 3rd Battalion commander, Major William Esbitt, to place his troops on a-round-the-clock alert. Both Companies K and L had a platoon of heavy machine guns integrated into their defenses, and there were four tanks placed in Rimling to provide emergency defensive fire if needed.
A little before midnight on New Year’s, elements of the 44th Division’s 71st Infantry, to the west of Company K, sent word that they were under attack by at least five companies of German troops. The 36th Volksgrenadier Division and the 38th SS Panzergrenadier Regiment, tore through the American outpost line and smashed into the 71st’s main line of resistance—MLR. Over 600 Germans penetrated the 1st Battalion’s positions and occupied the forest to their rear.
Only minutes after midnight veteran troops of the 37th SS Panazergrenadier Regiment, 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, attacking along the entire battalion front, hit Company K. Apparently hoping to surprise the Americans, the Germans advanced without artillery preparation. They came at the American lines rushing forward bold and upright, shouting obscenities. In a determined attack about 200 men approached the positions of the 1st and 2nd Platoons, Company K. In the 2nd Platoon’s area, on the top of the hill, the right-flank heavy machine gun, manned by Private Leon Outlaw, Company M, tore holes through the advancing Germans. To the east along the highway, however, the Germans overran the positions of 1st Platoon. At least 18 Germans reached the north edge of Rimling where they attempted to set up machine guns at the rear of the 1st Platoon. While returning fire, the GI’s also called for support from the tanks in Rimling. After a few hits and near-misses the Germans fled, leaving guns and equipment behind.
Although the first wave had been stopped, small groups continued to fire on Company K’s front. Often they stood upright and hollered “American gangsters” or “Yankee bastards” as they fired. This behavior allowed the Americans to kill or wound many of them. Frequently, with a kind of insane heroism, the wounded Germans continued to fire from where they had fallen. Small groups also tried to infiltrate through the American lines. Many wore white camouflage snow suits making it nearly impossible to see them against the snow, but when they moved they were revealed in the bright moonlight and were cut down by rifle fire.
The main assault had been against the western two platoons of Company K on Schlietzen Hill, but there was also heavy patrol action against the 3rd Platoon and against Company L along the Epping-Urbach road and around the crossroads. Coming from the north, one German patrol was able to enter the outskirts of Rimling. Two Germans came within rifle range of the Company L CP, which was situated in a building in the east end of the town. A Sergeant Steen, at the doorway of the CP, fired at them, killing one and wounding the other. The wounded German was persuaded to come into the house to have his wound treated.
Company L had its machine guns situated to fire on an area 75 yards to its front. During the night, Sgt. Robert L. Madren reported a German patrol that was attempting to assault his position from the northeast. He waited until the four leading Germans were close to his foxhole and then opened up, killing all four and driving off the rest of the patrol.
The GI’s of the 3rd Battalion could hear the sounds of heavy fighting on the 71st Infantry's front to the west. After about an hour the Company K outposts heard the Germans regrouping to their front. They preceded their next onslaught with an artillery barrage. Immediately after the artillery and mortar fire lifted more than 300 Germans, screaming and shouting, rushed toward Company K from the north and northwest. The GI’s knocked down whole groups stopping the assault.
During the ensuing lull, one platoon of Company I went into line just to the east of the flank platoon of Company K while another Company I platoon took over the positions of 1st Platoon, Company K, on the east slope of Schlietzen Hill. The other platoon of Company I and the company’s weapons platoon remained in support positions south of Rimling.
In the meantime the 71st was pushed back, but due to a communications failure the 3rd Battalion, 397th, was not informed of the withdrawal, exposing its left rear. Colonel Ercil D. Porter, commander of the 71st, committed his reserve–492 men of the 3rd Battalion–in a vigorous counter-attack supported by a platoon of tanks from the 749th Tank Battalion. The fighting raged through the long hours of the winter darkness, as both sides launched a serious of fierce attacks.
The third German assault against the 397th, again preceded by artillery, came just before dawn. Although repulsed, the German discovered an unprotected 1,000 yard section of ground along the 3rd Battalion's left flank where the 71st had been. Small groups of Germans began to by-pass Company K's positions on the high ground, and, by swinging around the company, infiltrating across the terrain south of the peak of Schlietzen Hill, entering Rimling from the southwest. When the Germans began to cross the ridge, the Company I platoon which had remained behind in reserve, was then sent into position south of Company K along with part of the weapons platoon as support. But even with this platoon in place, along with two tanks that were brought up, it was not enough to fill the gap. The Germans, approaching loudly and seemingly indifferent to the dangers about them, continued to attack and infiltrate through the opening in the American lines.
With the Germans infiltrating behind its position and small attacks to its front, the 2nd Platoon, Company K, was finally forced to withdraw from the top of Schlietzen Hill.
S.Sgt. Saul Scheiman, of Company I, directed mortar and artillery fire on German patrols in the area, but one group, in platoon strength, managed to enter the south end of Rimling. It was not quite light as they assembled in front of the village church, while in the tower above them, 2nd Lt. James S. Howard, forward observer for Battery C, 374th Field Artillery Battalion, took action. Howard dropped a grenade into the midst of the group and then fired a magazine from his carbine and another from his pistol. Those Germans that were still alive dashed across the street and into a house. After daylight some GI’s from the Company I headquarters surrounded the house, threw a hand grenade into a basement window, and ordered the Germans to surrender. One by one, twenty Germans came out and gave up.
With the Germans on three sides of the town, patrols constantly engaging in firefights, and German artillery fire falling in and near their positions, the 2nd Platoon, Company K, even after it had withdrawn from the top of Schlietzen, continued to find itself drawing a lot of heat. The company commander, 2nd Lt. Robert Harris, went to check the condition of the platoon. Even though under fire from snipers, artillery, and mortars, he decided that the platoon ought to attack and retake the hill. The battalion commander agreed, called for an artillery preparation, and ordered Company G, plus a platoon of Company F, to move into line south of the ridge defended by the platoon of Company I, a line from which 2nd Platoon, Company K, would attack. But before these plans could be put into action, the Germans struck against the open flank, with three companies of infantry and eight panzers. The Americans managed to drive off this attack with artillery fire. Then, just after noon, while Company G and part of Company F were moving up from around Guising and the Rohrbach railway station from the south, to take up defenses on the ridge a kilometer and a half south of Schlietzen Hill, the 2nd Platoon, Company K, counter-attacked. With little effort the platoon took the hill as the Germans had turned their attention to the open flank and were not in position to meet the assault.
The German assault was so wholly directed at the west flank of the regiment that Company L, to the east of Rimling, faced only minor attacks, as did Companies A and B, 397th, further east.
Over the next six days a series of back and forth inclusive actions raged west of Rimling around Schlietzen Hill. .
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