The Unbelievable But True Saga of Lt. Sam Magill and the I & R Platoon of the 329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division


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Last Monday, in recognition of Gen. Macon's leadership. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. pinned the Legion of Merit medal on Gen. Macon.  The citation for the Legion of Merit to Gen. Macon, reads, in part, - "Major General Macon exhibited sound tactical judgment and the highest type of leadership in locking the attack and in the subsequent reduction of the enemy salient, ......."troops of the 83rd Infantry Division under the able leadership of Major General Macon fought skillfully and gained their assigned objectives.  Through out the entire engagement Major General Macon exhibited untiring energy and high professional ability in the employment of his forces, contributing materially to the crushing defeat of the enemy."

This week, too, another officer of the 83rd Division was awarded a Legion of Merit medal; Lt. Samuel Magill of the I. and R. Platoon of the 329th Infantry.  The incidents leading up to the event for which Lt. Magill has been honored with the Legion of Merit were not dogged with the rugged difficulties that attended those weeks in the Ardennes.  Lt. Magill's exploit was more along the lines of making the best of a fluid situation.  He learned that the commanding general of a large German force had indicated his wiliness to surrender to the Americans.  Surrendering with him would be 20,000 German troops and their vehicles, arms and other equipment.

It was a delicate situation for a lieutenant to be in.  He must arrange for the surrender but he must avoid making any commitments beyond the range of his authority.

Working directly with the enlisted men of the I. and R. Platoon under his command, Lt. Magill established direct liaison with the German commander and arranged for a conference which led to the surrender of the general and the 20,000 troops he commanded.  On September 17, 1944 Gen. Macon accepted the pistol pf the German general signifying surrender, and the 20,000 troops were marched to a PW enclosure.  It was the largest mass surrender of the war.

Lt. Magill has since been transferred to the 99th Division under the Arm's deployment plan.  But the men of the original I. and R. Platoon who are still with the 83rd remember those days of "2,000 at Beaugency."  Cpl. Harry Goodson said, when he was told of Lt. Magill's award, "It's about time.  Lt. Magill deserves everything he received.  I remember very well those days last September when we first heard the rumor that General Elster would surrender to the 99th Division, no one would believe it. "20,000 German troops and their general surrendering at one fell swoop?"  Impossible !  But it's history now that they did surrender.

German Major General Botho Henning Elster Surrenders to Major General Macon, 83rd Infantry Division

Lt. Col. Bertram Kalisch, left, Forest Milles, LI, NY, and Lt. Col. J. K. French, right, Fairfax County, VA, discuss terms of surrender with German Maj. Gen. Erich Elster and his staff at the River Loire.  Although the General is surrendering 20,000 troops, he seems cheerful.  Romorantin, France, 09/15/1944.

Surrounded by members of his staff, German Major General Erich Elster, addresses his 20,000 remaining men at Romorantin near the Loire River, France, telling them that he has just concluded arrangements to surrender with them to the American Forces.  09/15/1944

Maj. Gen. Erich Elster, surrounded by his staff, discusses terms for the surrender of himself and his 20,000 troops at the River Loire.  Lt. Col. J. K. French, Fairfax County, VA, second from right.  Romorantin, France.  09/15/1944

RESTRICTED - Signal Corps Photo #ETO-HQ-44-16846 (Zinni).. Orig. neg. rec'd from OCSigO Hdqtrs, SOS,European Theater of Operations, ISA, Sept. 1944.  Released by BPE, Auth #13, 09/19/1944.  Special release 09/19/1944

Terms and conditions of surrender are discussed by Lt. Col. Jules K. French, U. S. Liaison Officer and German Maj. Gen, Erich Elster and staff, as they leave for formal surrender at Beaugency, France.  The Nazis surrendered 20,000 troops.  09/15/1944


Unit Journal, 329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division, September 1944

329th Infantry, 83rd "Thunderbolt" Infantry Division

One of the strangest mass surrenders in current military history is about to take place on the south bank of the LOIRE RIVER, where an estimated 20,000 Germans of the Luftwaffe, Wehrmacht, and Marines are converging by three routes to the vicinity of ORLEANS where they will lay down their arms.

The force is commanded by Major General Erich Elster, late fieldkommandantur of Biarritz, who on Aug 26, was given the mission of rounding up all the German troops along the Spanish border and Bay of Biscay, regrouping them, and starting them on the long trek back to safety within the borders of the Reich.

General Elster’s entourage started with more than 6,000 of the Wehrmacht, and more than 7,000 Marines who were originally stationed on the coast. In accumulating the force, the general also acquired some 400 civilian automobiles, 500 trucks and 1,000 horse-drawn vehicles.

Other Germans were fleeing the trap which was being formed by inroads of the Seventh army in the South of France, and the fast moving columns of the Third Army dashing for the West Wall, which made General Elster’s polyglot force take a tailend position . He was initially protected by a screening force which paralleled the Americans on the south bank of the LOIRE, but as soon as the main element of the Germans in escape became pressured by aerial harassing, and the screening units were compelled to get off the river bank by strength of American artillery, Elster became commandant of a column stretching unprotected more than 30 tortured miles along the road.

The maquis was chewing at his heels and his flanks, while the 9th Air Force reduced much of his rolling stock to a shambles with strafing attacks.

During the period the Germans were sturdily defending the river bank, Major General Robert C. Macon, commanding the 83rd Infantry Division was trying to force a crossing of reconnaissance elements from his division, and the task of making the initial probe into enemy territory fell to an Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon, commanded by an Ohioan, Lt Samuel W Magill, 24 of Ashtabula.

Each time the I & R men approached the LOIRE with an idea of carrying themselves to the south bank, they came under immediate and heavy small arms fire. Several times they were repulsed in the vicinity of MER, and would go back a long the north bank road to take up observation posts and wait.

On the night of Sept 1, Lt Jean Andre Hamel, a French maquis officer assigned to the I & R platoon, crossed alone, grabbed a motorcycle, and made a preliminary run over the immediate sector. The Germans caused him little concern, but there was a bit of trouble with the maquis who were not inclined to believe him or his credentials.

Meanwhile, two of Lt Magill’s , Pfc James Reilly, 40 yrs old, former truck driver for Hendy Machine Co in Thomaston, CT and Pvt James E Townsend, (19, 516 State St, Petosky, MI) slipped over the LOIRE and constituted the sole American strength south of the river for the next two days.

When Magill’s buildup was at its peak, and he had all his unit scattered from the north bank to patrol charging up and down the river net south of the stream, he was doing a chore for the division on a 40-mile front 30 miles deep into German territory all with an operating strength of 24 men.

General Elster’s column was still in trouble and the maquis snapped at it from the woods, while the air force covered in an unfriendly fashion overhead.

On the morning of Sept 8th, Lt Magill was approached by two members of the maquis and told there was a German general further south of his post who wanted to talk surrender terms. He was willing to surrender to the Americans if there were any in the vicinity but he would not consider turning his men over to the French. He demanded proof that there was a force of Americans, however, of two battalions or more, across the LOIRE in honor that his honor be satisfied - - - two battalions of Yanks being considered equal to 20,000 Germans on the present rate of exchange.

Lt Magill started dealing, but on Sep 9th, told by his commanding officer, Col Edwin Crabill, that the total battle strength was off, informed General Elster that there could be no salving of German honor, that he would either give himself up or make out as well as he could with the maquis and the 9th Air Force, both of whom were having a field day.

On Sep 10, General Bacon and a delegation of high staff officers from the Ninth US Army, had a conference with General Elster, and came to official terms of surrender of the German troops. In almost every case the previous terms suggested by Lt Magill were upheld, and, in substance, to paraphrase Prime Minister Winston Churchill, never had so many surrendered themselves to so few.

General Elster was told to (1) keep his weapons to protect his column from wandering bands of guerrilla fighters who might not understand a surrender was in progress and fall on the troops, (2) the weapons of all types would be surrendered at LOIRE, (3) the Germans would come north in three columns to bring them out with 7,000 Marines at ORLEANS, the 6,000 Wehrmacht at BEAUGENCY, and the 6,000 Luftwaffe at MER, 94) the German General was to give his word that there would be no firing by the Germans, and (5) if any of his strength looked like it might not take orders from him, he was told the 9th Air Force would continue to hover about to act as incentive for all his men to listen to his commands.

Next step in the elaborate give-up was for the German General and his staff to be moved north to establish a command post 

under the eyes of the Americans, and the German columns, to march about 20 miles a day, were to hit the road on Sep 12. This would make them arrive at the point of formal surrender by the LOIRE on Saturday Sep 16 or 17.

To conduct the column forward and keep check on their movements, three Americans were sent to the German command post from Lt Magill’s outfit – - - Pfc Ralph E Anderson (23, 662 East King St, Lancaster OH). Pvt Arnold E Goodson (21, Wolf Creek TN), and Tec 5 Christopher E Vane (29, Washington Blvd, Baltimore MD).

Shortly after them came a radio crew in a jeep – Tec 4 Morris C Robinson (26, 515 River Rd, Ft Thomas KY), Tec 4 Darrell E. Thorp (22, RFD 2, Montpelier OH), Tec 5 James L Amiot (23, 975 Shuler Ave, Hamilton OH), and Private Lorenzo E Sanchez (19, Veguita, NM). With the radio crew went its mongrel mascot, a 3 months old dog picked up in Normandy where she had be orphaned by shrapnel. Named Blackjack 28, after the call letters of the radio set, the dog is an object example of how one may thrive on the chopped egg yolks and pork in K-Rations, which is all she lives on.

Strange were the people with whom this little band of Americans associated more than 40 miles from the nearest supporting American units. The division sent LTC J K French, fortyish, polished, veteran of the surrender dickerings of the Isle De Cezembre, from Merrifield, Fairfax County, VA to head the small assembly at the German Command Post. Lt Magill set up his headquarters at ROMORANTIN, and every night at his table during the negotiations period, a German artillery colonel sat down to eat with the handful of Yanks. One noon, Magill showed up at the headquarters with a buxom blonde German woman, late interpreter for the gestapo who had been turned over to Magill by the Reich and was glad to be in the hands of the Americans. She became familiar around the headquarters, too, all of which mystified the French populous of the town, but they were inclined to allow the Americans to handle the situation as they saw fit.

The I & R platoon spent a nervous week leading to the actual surrender. It had almost alone been able to initiate the dealing and the terms which won them one of the big prisoner prizes of the war, but every day the columns were on the road, platoon members had to seat out the chance that some wild shot at some column might undo the whole program.

When the Germans file across the LOIRE into the big prisoner pen, then and the only, will this gang of modern Sergeant Yorks be able to rest.

The following is a list of Lt Magill’s platoon who crossed the Loire:

Lt Samuel W Magill, 24, Ashtabula OH; Pfc Robert L Houseknecht, 27, Muncz Valley, PA; Pvt James E Townsend, 19, Petoskey, MI; Pvt Chester R Finkhousen, 22, Payne OH; Cpl (Acting Sgt) Robert W roller, 23, Clover VA; Tec/5 David Alcala, 23, Laverne CA; Pfc James H Reilly, 40, Thomaston CT; T/Sgt Herbert E Berner, 34, St Louis MO; Pvt Michael J Marino, 22, Willoughby OH; Pvt Arnold R Goodson, 21, Wolfgreen TN; Pfc Ralph E Anderson, 23, Lancaster OH; Tec/5 Christopher E Vane, 29, Baltimore MD; Pvt Albert Biro, 24, Cleveland OH; Pvt Robert F Glasgow, 20, Wheeling WV; Pvt Michael J Demeter, 21, Cleveland OH; Pvt Edward J Mank, 23, Lawrence MA; Cpl Howard Sistler, 30, Batavia IL; Sgt Edward Hatcher, 22, Beckley WV; Pvt Donald E Wilkinson, 23, Wellsville OH

The Program for the Surrender reads as follows:

September 16 – At 1500 on the south bank of the LOIRE RIVER, where the roads converge at the Beaugency Bridge, US Army Generals and their staffs will receive the official surrender.

An honor platoon of K Company, 319th infantry, will form behind the Generals.

LTC Jules K French, who has acted as the American liaison officer at the German command post and participated in the settling of terms, will lead the convoy of German cars of General Erich Elster and staff to a point near the bridge, where they will get out of their cars.

LTC French will advance, salute the senior American General present, and report the arrival of the Germans to surrender. He will then return to bring the Germans forward and introduce them to the Americans

General Elster will then hand over a weapon as token of surrender, and announce that he is surrendering his forces to the army of the United States.

September 17, 1944 – Arrangements will be made to take correspondents across the LOIRE RIVER southward where they will be allowed to join the line of march to the prisoner of war pens.

SOURCE: RG 407, Entry 427, Box 12580, 383-Inf(329)0.7 Unit Journal, 329th Inf Regt, 83rd InfD, Sept 1944, National Archives & Records Administration, College Park MD. Researched by John D. Bowen, Researcher, Genealogical and Military.

How to Put Salt
on a
German General's

An otherwise unfunny war produces a hilarious prelude to the surrender of 20,000 German soldiers and their officers.

Saturday Evening Post
November 11, 1944


His military honor satisfied by a fake air attack on his trapped troops, Maj. Gen. Erich Elster (center) happily capitulates.  On extreme right is Colonel French, who cautioned the author: "Be careful what you say."

ROMORANTIN is a drowsy French town that until recently was forty-nine miles behind the German lines, and for fillips it had a cobblestone market square, a woman Gestapo agent who wore dark glasses, a collaborationist chambermaid in the local hotel, and Sam Magill, late of Ashtabula, Ohio.

According to the ground rules, any shot fired south across the Loire River fell in German territory, but the 20,000 German troops were mostly south of Romorantin itself, and Sam Magill and his jeep-borne reconnaissance platoon of twenty-four assorted G.I. characters were comfortably ensconced in a house in Romorantin, where they conducted the affairs of the United States Army south of the river and listened to Bob Hope on Monday nights. By a long series of coincidences, there were also attached to Magill's traveling circus a derelict French lieutenant, a Belgian underground operator, six German prisoners donated by the Maquis for general housework, a Senegalese with saber scars on both cheeks, and a onetime sergeant in the Foreign Legion who joined the act at St. Malo and turned out to be a cross between Groucho Marks and the Man Who Came to Dinner. Theoretically, Lieutenant Magill and his twenty-four men were supposed to be following the 20,000 German, but the Germans didn't seem to be going anywhere. As a result, Magill actually was engaged in double-talking the German commander, Maj. Gen. Erich Elster, into surrendering to Magill's platoon with the 20,000 troops that got hung up in their flight from Western France to Germany when their escape gap suddenly closed.

News of this war south of the Loire drifted into the bar of the Hotel Scribe in Paris, where correspondents gather nightly to plot ways of poisoning the censors, who also drink at the Scribe bar, but from different stools-like big-league umpires and ballplayers.

The inevitable happened almost immediately. Army public-relations officers, who never tire of devising new ways to torture weary correspondents, announced prematurely that the 20,000 Germans were surrendering at nine o'clock the following morning. Naturally, there would be a special mass expedition of correspondents to the scene. Three hours later, they frantically announced it was all a horrid mistake, and for everybody to stay as far away as possible, because the Germans might not surrender after all.

Unfortunately, three of us left between announcements. At five in the morning, Chuck Haacker, of Acme News Pictures, Fred MacKenzie, of the Buffalo Evening News, and I were jeeping south toward the Loire; this reporter still with his pajamas on, owing to the confusion involved in dressing in the dark.

At Mer, on the north bank of the river, we flushed one American sergeant, Herbert Berner, of St. Louis, and one American colonel, E. B. Crabill, of Galax, Virginia. Colonel Crabill, a salty Regular Army man who supervised the surrender of the citadel at St. Malo, won everlasting fame when he forced Cerman troops across the river to withdraw by the simple expedient of running two half-tracks, an armored car and half a dozen jeeps with machine guns up and down the north bank, firing indiscriminately at the south bank. This upset the Germans so much that they finally retreated away from their river positions and reported officially-according to a captured document-that they had been forced to retire under withering fire from an American division massed on the north bank.

Crabill, directing the activities of Lieutenant Magill by remote control, confirmed the rumor that there were 20,000 Germans on the other side of the river. But he added that they were in a delicate state of suspension as far as surrendering was concerned.

"They might and they might not," the colonel said. "However, I will give you a guide to Magill's command post, and you can find out for yourselves. All I ask is that you don't get yourselves shot and embarrass me."

Haacker, MacKenzie and I solemnly promised not to provoke the Germans unduly. Sergeant Berner announced that he personally would lead the way to the river, where a singular group of subsidized Frenchmen without pants operated a rickety ferry for the Army in the shadow of a magnificent bridge whose middle had been neatly removed by American bombers.

The ferry was beyond description, but it floated somehow. With the jeep securely aboard, both ends hanging out over the swiftly flowing river, several shore-based Frenchmen towed us upstream with long ropes h 19 Volga Boatmen. Then everybody let go. The ferry took off like a wild bird. Frantically jabbing long poles into the bottom of the Loire, the four perspiring boatmen propelled us diagonally across the river. There were a few uncertain moments when it appeared that we would miss the pier completely, but through a combination of shouts, curses and powerful throwing arms, one of the ropes sailed into the hands of a startled bystander, who, fortunately, had the presence of mind to loop the rope around a post.

The first penetration into enemy territory was strangely unexhilarating. Magill's rear command post on the bank of the river was a tree-shaded farmhouse, with an adjoining courtyard occupied by two American soldiers sound asleep on the grass and the hell with the Germans. Another soldier strolled out of the house and agreed to guide us to Magill's forward command post at Romorantin, forty-nine miles to the south.
This seemed the propitious time to inquire discreetly about German positions.
"Shucks, there ain't nothin' except a few jerry patrols up this far," the soldier said. "Wait'll you get down farther. You just keep your heads down and leave everything to me."

The Lighter Side of War

HAACKER looked dubiously at MacKenzie, MacKenzie looked dubiously at me, and I responded by whistling a short, tuneless snatch from Blackbirds of 1928 just to demonstrate how nonchalant you can be when you feel yourself coming apart.
French villagers waved happily as we drove through their towns, which, as the Germans withdrew, Magill's men had systematically liberated simply by driving their jeeps down the main streets and announcing they were -Americans. Between villages, however, the Maquis insisted upon popping out from behind trees and shrubs in cops-and-robbers fashion and leveling their guns at us. With an eye for diplomacy, we either slowed down or stopped completely, out of deference to nervous trigger fingers, whereupon the Maquis returned the compliment either by gaily waving their guns under our noses in a careless sort of greeting I found particularly distasteful or by suddenly snapping to rigid attention while we drove on.

Forty-nine miles later, at Romorantin, there still hadn't been a sign of a German. This was disappointing, since we were still alive, deep in enemy territory, and had absolutely nothing to show for it.

Magill was out when we drove into the village square and turned into a high-walled courtyard guarded by youthful Maqms sentries posted on the street. But George, the Foreign Legion sergeant and a sort of poor man's Sherman Billingsley when he had to be, greeted us in the name of the American Army and announced that Magill would be back later.' George also requested that we mail a letter for him when we returned to saris, since at the moment mail facilities inside enemy territory were not what you would call adequate.

Magill's headquarters were strictly out of The Chocolate Soldier. G.I.'s lounged in the big front room, listening to their radio and generally refusing to be inconvenienced by the fact that they were forty-nine miles behind the enemy lines. The six German prisoners, donated gratis to Magill by the Maquis who had captured them, sunned themselves in the courtyard in the afternoon lull, watched over by the black Senegalese colonial, who obviously enjoyed the opportunity of putting reverse English on Hitler's master-race theory.

Magill turned up at dinnertime with a German colonel whom he had borrowed as a sort of hostage while a smooth-talking American lieutenant colonel, Jules French, of Merrifield, Virginia, went to General Elster's headquarters to try to negotiate the surrender.

The Colonel made a profound impression, particularly on the six German prisoners, who appeared a trifle embarrassed at being discovered in a captured state. The colonel eyed them coldly from the position he had taken up in front of the bar in the dining room. Magill was having trouble in deciding what to do with the German colonel, now that he had him. It was obvious we couldn't very well leave him propped up against the bar for any length of time without having a paralyzed German on our hands. I suggested that he sit down, and drew a curt grunt for my effort, at which point Magill took over and gently propelled the German toward the dinner table. All through dinner there was a noticeable tension and lack of conversation. We all made a valiant but unsuccessful effort to avoid staring at the colonel's gaudy blue uniform. We felt half dressed in our olive drabs.

After dinner, while Raacker pleaded with the German to pose for a picture which he finally did when Haacker agreed to photograph only the top of his head, Magill gave a blow-by-blow account of the inconveniences involved in capturing 20,000 German soldiers.

Magill's platoon contacted the Germans through the Maquis, who had been driving the German troops wild with frequent ambushes along the escape route to Germany. The Maquis conceived the delightful scheme of setting up a machine gun behind a bush, firing a burst or two at the approaching column and then silently retiring while the Germans dismounted, set up their own guns and prepared to fight the little men who were no longer there. When they had discovered the ruse, the Germans picked up their guns, climbed back on their trucks and set off down the road again; at which ,point a new Maquis behind a new bush started the whole business over again. Eventually, General Elster's troops, who were also beset by 9th Air Force fighter bombers at every turn, showed signs of becoming definitely punchy.

At the proper moment, the Maquis reported that there were 20,000 Germans that might like to surrender. Magill immediately opened an office to conduct the negotiations and got in touch, by proxy, with General Elster, who sent word back that he didn't like the idea very much, particularly since it would make him look pretty silly to go around surrendering 20,000 Germans to twenty-four American G.I.'s and a first lieutenant. However, the general added, if Magill scraped up a couple of battalions for a token battle at the village of Decize to make the thing look good, he might be inclined to give up.

Unfortunately, there weren't two battalions of American soldiers within a hundred miles. Stalling for time, Magill informed General Elster by Maquis courier that they had better talk the thing over a little more. The general agreed there was no hurry and told Magill he would send a staff officer over. The time and place decided upon, Magill asked the 9th Air Force to lend him some fighter bombers for the big clambake.

The fighter bombers were to pick up the location of the conference by a smoke signal at a certain crossroads. If Magill put a white panel on the ground, they were to fly around and play games with each other above the Germans, but if Magill put a red panel down, they were to give the Germans the business with bombs and guns. Shortly before the conference began, Magill got cocky and put a white panel down. The fighter bombers arrived and did fancy tricks over the Germans' heads while two French officers representing Magill conferred with the enemy. The Germans did a double take at the planes overhead and immediately announced they were almost ready to surrender, but not quite. There were still some details to be ironed out, they said.

One of the points was that. they refused to surrender to the Maquis, and another was that they insisted on the right to carry their guns on the surrender march as protection against the Maquis. This was tentatively agreed upon and the German staff officers went back to their general with the proposition.

Magill. was surprisingly co-operative, in view of the ticklish situation, when I suggested paying a purely social call on general Elster at his headquarters some ninety miles deeper into enemy territory.

"Sure, go ahead," Magill said. "You can ride down with this Belgian, Felix de Walls. The Belgian is going down to see Colonel. French, who is down there now trying to convince General Elster to surrender faster. It should be safe enough, but Elster says some of his soldiers might not like the idea of becoming prisoners, so he hasn't told a lot of them why they're going to march up to the Loire. They think they're still fighting somebody, so be careful."

This latter statement of Magill's went a long way toward dampening my enthusiasm, but since MacKenzie represented only one paper and I represented the United Press, serving hundreds of papers, I won the booby prize.

George, the handy man, personally took charge of getting me in shape for the dash to General Elster's. Insisting that the first requisite of the project was plenty of rest, George took me firmly by the arm and piloted me across the dark market square to a hotel. George knocked loudly and a pretty young bench girl appeared at the door with a bandanna wound around her head.

As we walked up the stairs, George noted casually that the young lady was a collaborationist and had had her head shaved because of her extracurricular activities with the Germans.

"George," I said, "are you sure this town has been liberated?"
"Well, yes and no," George said noncommittally.
"In that case, it strikes me that this young lady isn't exactly on our side," I said.
"You might say that," George said.
"What, then, is to keep this charming girl from flushing me down the drain during the night?" I asked.
"Oh, we'll have a guard in the square," George assured me. "If anything happens, just yell out the window."

I then discovered that my door had no lock or knob on the inside and that I would be obliged to sleep. with my door open while Romorantin's ace collaborationist stalked the halls. George was seized with a fit of inspiration that resolved itself in a tricky arrangement by which a rope was stretched between two small tables balanced delicately on two chairs just inside the door; the theory being that an intruder entering in the dark would stumble over the rope, pull the end tables down with a crash and awaken me to my peril. We never did decide what my next move was to be. Actually, the night was uneventful.

Friends and Foes

In the morning, Van de Walle, the Belgian, and a cheerful Get. driver named Ralph Anderson bundled me into their jeep in the middle of a pile of tommy guns, and we took off for General Elster's headquarters.

Flying a large white flag from the front of the jeep and a dime-store American flag from the windshield, we raced madly through the countryside. I considered the American flag a bad arrangement, since it might annoy the Germans, but Anderson was adamant.

As we roared through villages into which Magill's patrols had penetrated, we were greeted effusively by the townspeople. Unfortunately, however, we ran out of liberated villages rather quickly. In the nonliberated towns. the French thought we were Germans. Instead of waving or indulging in their favorite habit of throwing ripe fruit, the villagers walked inside their houses as we approached, turned their backs on us or just stared at us without expression. It was definitely uncomfortable.

Turning into the main street of one small town, I was startled to see grayclad German soldiers strolling up and down the street or talking in small groups. Some had guns and some didn't. I grabbed the side of the jeep and yelled at Anderson to step on it. The advice was unnecessary. Anderson jammed the accelerator down to the floor and we roared past the Germans at sixty miles an hour, while Van de Walle held his tommy gun in his lap and I squeezed as much of my anatomy as possible into my steel helmet. The Germans stopped and wheeled in their tracks as we shot by, but if they did anything else, I didn't see it. I wasn't interested in anything except the, open country at the far end of the street.

Alice-in-Wonderland War

Some two hours later, our panting jeep cautiously nosed into a courtyard, rolled past twenty or thirty German soldiers working on a variety of vehicles, and came to a stop in front of a lovely chateau set in a wide sweep of spacious lawns. German staff officers strolled over the grounds in twos and threes, and in a small field back of the chateau, German soldiers sprawled by a column of damouflaged cars beneath a row of trees.

A poker-faced German staff officer greeted us curtly with a snappy Nazi salute, to which we replied with a slightly ragged version of an American salute. The German, without a word, turned on his heel and conducted us into the chateau to Colonel French.

French was busy at his desk in a pleasant room overlooking the front grounds. When the German officer had retired, I introduced myself to French. He motioned me to sit down, and whispered, "The next room is full of German staff officers. Be careful what. you say. As a matter of fact, Small, it might be well if you didn't say anything."
French, at that moment, was the most harried man in France. The night before, just when negotiations were going smoothest, a band of irrepressible Maquis in the neighborhood had slipped out and captured 900 of General Elster's finest soldiers. The general was very miffed by this breach of etiquette and complained bitterly to French, who was obliged to ask the Maquis to return the 900 Germans to their general.

Reluctantly, the Maquis gave the Germans their guns again and marched them back to General Elster's army. Elster was enormously impressed by French's suave diplomacy, but French was considerably shaken: by the realization that the whole deal had nearly been torpedoed by the overenthusiastic Maquis.
While the Maquis were out capturing their friends, other German soldiers were giving a screwball party in the basement of the chateau for two American G.I.'s, Corp. Chris Vane and Pfc. Stanley Pope, who had brought French to the German headquarters.

"I thought I must be getting lightheaded," French said. "I was at dinner with the German officers, and I kept hearing M Old Kentucky Home. Then 1 knew T was nuts when I heard a bunch of German soldiers singing God Bless America. I investigated later, and found that Poise and Vane had taken advantage of the non-English-speaking Germans and had taught them God Bless America whet they weren't looking, you might say."

General Elster, gold teeth and all ventured out on the lawn a few minutes later in his shiny black boots, red-striped riding pants and high-collared tunic across which was strung a wide assortment of Hitler baubles. Van de Walle drew a cold but completely proper greeting from the fat little German general. For my pains, I got a magnificent brush-off.

The general took one highly disdainful look at my ragged G.I. costume and immediately made up his mind to go in and eat lunch. My one-shot effort to cadge an invitation to lunch backfired, but Van de Walls made the grade and went in for beef and noodles, a glass of wine and a cigar, while I wand-red around aimlessly outside the chateau.

Finally, hunger drove me to a desperate maneuver. I walked across the field back of the chateau and cautiously inquired if there was anybody present who could speak English. One of the soldiers shouted unintelligibly in German, and a moment later the bushes parted and out stepped the coffee salesman from San Francisco.

I hadn't bargained for quite so much. A coffee salesman from San Francisco is fine in San Francisco, but it's a little unnerving to have one turn up in the German army. But there he was, an old 64th Street man who used to spend his Sundays in Golden Gate Park, which he thinks is nice enough, but not so nice as the parks in Bremen, Germany. For diplomatic reasons, I immediately identified myself as an old Market Street man. The coffee salesman and I got along very well, indeed.

The German, having fallen into my trap, immediately invited me to lunch. This was exactly what I had hoped for, and I was on the verge of accepting when I made the disheartening discovery that the Germans lounging around the soup kettle at the moment were particularly nasty-looking Germans. It was a difficult decision to make. Finally, despite a howling stomach, I passed.

"How about a bar of chocolate, then?" the German asked. "It is the kind they give our German fliers. It has something in it to settle the nerves, but I don't think it will hurt you."

I immediately accepted, feeling I could use all the sedatives I could get. While I munched the chocolate gratefully, the coffee salesman from San Francisco and I had a long discussion on a variety of innocuous subjects. We also talked a little about the problems involved in trying to kill each other, and he mentioned that the Germans found the Maquis particularly trying.

"I do not understand," he said plaintively. "Yesterday, I take three cars out on patrol. I alone come back. We are here four years now, and we treat the French humanly. We are nice to them. So what happens? They turn on us!"

Well, if this German couldn't understand why the Frenchmen didn't like him and his kind, there was nothing I could say to help him, so I kept my thoughts to myself. We had finished our mission, and it was time to go. When I last saw the salesman from San Francisco, he called, "Perhaps we will meet again sometime, in Bremen or in San Francisco, after we have finished the war."

For him and his group, the war is finished now, because the surrender was completed a few days later. Those 20,000 Germans quietly marched up to the appointed place and gave up their arms to a comparatively small American force without any incident. For me, the only regret was that I wasn't present, then, because the correspondents who were there all got German guns for souvenirs. But when I visited the Germans, it didn't seem wise to mention the matter of guns, since that might have reminded some of the Germans that they possessed all the guns, while our little company was mostly unarmed.

Bargain day near Loire.  General Elster's soldiers march by in single file surrendering their equipment, which G.I.'s stack in large but neat piles.

Elster just after handing over his pistol - and 20,000 men - to General Macon,
U. S. 83rd Division.

Nazi soldiery travels light, but this officer brought much luggage to prisoners' compound.

Lt. Sam Magill, of Ashtabula, Ohio, (left) tells the story of his strange negotiations to correspondent Small, who saw some of them himself.


The Nervy Exploit of Lt. Sam Magill

329th Infantry Regiment, 83rd Infantry Division

Reproduced from "Never A Shot In Anger", by Colonel Barney Oldfield
Dedicated to the Men of the 83rd Division, U. S. Army
Reprinted by Frank Bellino
329th Infantry Regiment


When Maj. Gen. Leven C. Allen predicted that the French Second Armored Division would go in on one side of Paris, but have a hard time getting out on the other, he could have enlarged his prophecy to include the press. The war left Paris behind, but the war correspondents; hadn't the heart to do likewise. The Scribe Hotel, from the very first day, became a fanciful place, its lobby filled with aimless human tides, everyone afraid to leave it for fear of missing something, everyone afraid also that anything he could find there would fail to measure up under the eyes of his editor or program director. Being born among us was the journalist mendicant, who would pluck at the sleeves of soldiers on leave in Paris to get stories.

If the war correspondents were disinclined to chase off after the Armies now going full-tilt through old, hallowed battlefields such as the Marne, Soissons, Chiteau-Thierry, nothing was deader for them than the Brittany peninsula. Yet hundreds of men in three American divisions-the Eighth, Twenty-ninth and Second-were at Brest alone, where scar-faced, sinister Lt. Gen. Herman Bernhard Ramcke, the veteran paratroop leader of the battle of Crete, was denying the Biscay ports of Brest, Lorient and St. Nazaire to Allied use. He had more than 45,000 garrison troops and remnants of five divisions. Maj. Gen. Troy Middleton, commanding the VIII Corps, had already been in contact with Ramcke by radio, the latter seeking rules on the exchange of wounded. After this, he sought audience with General Middleton, coming out of Brest under a flag of truce. A forbidding enough figure when alone, he was formidable indeed when he stood beside Middleton's command trailer. His feet were planted firmly, wide apart, and two Doberman pinschers were at leash from each of his hands. Middleton was short with him, said there was nothing for them to talk about except the terms of Ramcke's surrender, adding that it would be wise for him to give up soon. Middleton assured him American pressure would be increased. Ramcke departed and took his Dobermans, nervously licking their chops, with him.

Colonel F. V. Fitzgerald, General Bradley's P&PW chief and onetime secretary to a governor of Nevada, had sent me to determine a likely capitulation time for Brest. His hope was to interest some of the war correspondents who had taken up sentry duty in the Scribe. Middleton's impression was that Ramcke was a stubborn fanatic, who would see the campaign through to the bitterest end. Optimistically, he guessed at the fourth to the sixth of September, but he warned this could be in error by as much as ten days. When Shep and I spun back to Versailles, where Twelfth Army Group was located, we were not the only ones with news. Colonel Fitzgerald accepted ours, then told us that we were being transferred to a new "trouble-shooting" assignment.

"The Ninth Army is just coming on the Continent," he said. "It's back at Periers--fresh from the U. S. and San Antonio, Texas. They have no experience in the field, and particularly with what it will take to handle war correspondents. You'll have to organize that from scratch for them." Shades of Grosvenor Square, almost a year ago ! But this time there was experience to draw upon, and the flaws of the first, troubled paper planning in London had shown themselves.

General Bradley described Ninth Army as "green but ambitious." Led by lanky, tall and completely bald Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson, described later by Frank Coniff of INS as having "the finest brad of skin in the Army,"' the Ninth Headquarters staff at first looked like an aggregation of National Guardsmen on their annual summer encampment.

The Periers stop was to be short, and after the round of introductions and talks with key people, I sat on a folding cot, typewriter on my knees, and wrote out the memorandum giving birth to a Ninth Army press camp. To it was attached a summary table of equipment and manpower needed, including signals and general communications, motor pool and messing facility. When this was shown to the staff officers they looked at me incredulously. A mobile radio link capable of transmitting voice to London, a press teletype circuit to the main switch at Twelfth Army Group, half a hundred vehicles, dozens of men of peculiar talents, an establishment large enough to take care of fifty war correspondents-it was unbelievable! "When we were in San Antonio," one colonel said, "I never saw two newspapermen in a week, and only then if we called 'em up."

Word came that the Ninth Army was going to put feet under itself by taking over the Brittany segment of Third Army, the VIII Corps and its five divisions. The fact that Ninth was actually being spring boarded into operations gave urgency to my requests, so I took a copy of my proposal to General Simpson's aide, Major Johnny Horn, of Greenwich, Conn. "Show it to General [Brig. Gen. James E.] Moore," he said. "He has a grasp of these things. If he okays it, that'll stop the rest of the staff debating over it."

The quickness with which General Moore pondered the recommendations, and the questions he asked, which were both penetrating and reasonable, gave me great respect for him from the beginning.

"You've had the background in it. If you say so, I'll take your recommendations," said he. Not only did he take them, he had each of the requisition forms signed by General Simpson himself! No supply dump would ever argue with that signature, and the personnel section stirred itself to get the men and talents specified.

On the third of September, as capitulation around Brest seemed more remote than ever, the Eighty-third Infantry Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. Robert C. Macon, of California, Maryland, was stretched 185 miles along the Loire from the Bay of Biscay to a point east of Orleans. Its job was to guard the north bank of that slow-moving stream and provide a flank protection to the wild-running Third Army. The thinness of this line had perturbed Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy, whose XII Corps was open on that side of Patton's thrust.

"Doesn't that flank worry you?" Eddy asked Patton one day as they were scanning the map.

"Not me," said Patton blithely. "It just depends on how nervous you are by nature."

With the German Armies now clearing out of France very rapidly and failing back on the prepared positions in die Siegfried Line, Hitler had sent a direct order to Generalmajor Erich Elster to round up all German forces in the south of France, from Bordeaux to Marseilles, and bring them back in column to Germany. Even though Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch, with his Seventh Army, was rolling up from the Riviera, on Hitler's map it looked easy for Elster to skin between Patton and Patch through the Belfort Gap. None of this was known to Colonel E. B. Crabill, of Palm Beach Shores, Florida, whose 329th Infantry Regiment of the Eighty-third had surveillance from seventy miles west of Blois to the vicinity of Orleans. He summoned his Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon leader, First Lieutenant Samuel W. Magill, of Ashtabula, Ohio. Magill's area extended from Blois to Orleans, about forty-five miles along the eastern edge. His unit had been beefed up by a platoon of quadruple .50-caliber-mounted halftracks, a platoon of 105-mm. howitzers, and a hundred Frenchmen of the FFI. In using the latter, it was necessary to teach them scouting and patrolling and reporting.

The colonel was disturbed for an unusual reason. "Sam," he said, what's happened to all those Germans who were shooting at us from the other side of the river?" Sam indicated his own worries about it, too.  Both of them knew they had orders not to cross the Loire, but "between Magill and Crabill there was an understanding. The colonel did not tell Sam to violate any orders, he just told him he wanted him to know what was going on. He had never been in the habit of spelling out methods for Sam.

Magill went back to his I&R platoon and talked over his problem with his driver, Corporal Christopher Vane of Baltimore, Maryland, laving the major portion of his unit in charge of Sergeant Herbert Berner of St. Louis, he told his Belgian interpreter, Felix van de Walle and his radio operator, Robert A. Alvey of San Diego, California, to get aboard. At Mer-sur-Loire, Magill crossed in a rowboat to Muides, a small village where the French were so happy to see the American they built him a raft to bring the jeep and his crew over as well. Contact was established almost at once with a member of the Free French, who said the Germans had all withdrawn farther to the south. He had heard a rumor that there was a German element of unknown strength willing to surrender to the Americans, but not to the French.  Magill sent a message back to Berner telling him of his plan to move deeper into German-held territory and instructing Berner to get other members of the twenty-four-man platoon across the river and placed at intervals to insure a radio relay.  Macgill found his forward movement suddenly restricted when his small patrol ran into the flank guard of the Eleventh Panzer Division, a tough tank battalion. 

Thousands of German troops, in columns and in every kind of conveyance, were filtering past it on all sides. Alvey cranked up his radio and fed back dozens of messages to the 329th, giving locations, march objectives, strength and state of equipment. One of these radio messages brought an air strike which destroyed two thirds of a ten-mile-long German column on the Route Nationale east of Chateauroux. The Magill patrol took frequent cover, once spending five hours in the woods. Eventually the main body of the Germans, behind the formidable Eleventh Panzer, flowed by.

With the XIX TAC, commanded by Brig. Gen. 0. P. Weyland, strafing a column miles further to the south, Magill now thought seriously of the possibilities of prisoners from whom he could get the more detailed information which Colonel Crabill wanted. With his mind on Germans who might surrender, Magill ran up a white flag of truce and Vane drove the jeep ahead toward Issoudun. There was occasional, desultory fire from the roadsides, as much from surprised French as from the disorganized Germans.

The bridge leading into Issoudun was alive with German guards, who held their guns on the approaching jeep, but let it come up to the bridge. Van de Walle, in German, asked to talk to the commander, and they settled back to await some major or, at most, lieutenant colonel. "Look," said Van de Walle suddenly, "that officer coming up on the other side of the bridge. See the red stripes on his pants leg. That's a major general." Hastily Magill got out of the jeep with Van de Walle and they moved forward to meet the German, who asked what they wanted and how they came to be there.

Sam's mouth was dry, but through the Belgian, he said: "I came here to see you because your cause is hopeless. I know you're trying to get back to Germany, but thousands of troops are in your way now waiting for you to come in range. I thought if I came to talk to you, you would see that you could surrender with honor--and save the lives of your men who will otherwise die unnecessarily." Because of the shambles he had noted in his 100-mile penetration, Sam was of the opinion that the General's strength at most, would be around two battalions.

The German consulted a moment with his staff. "How much strength do you represent?" he asked.

Sam was thinking only of his platoon, rather than the division. I've got my platoon...."

The German turned apoplectic. "What?" he spluttered. "Surrender. twenty thousand men to a platoon? Phantastisch!"

When Van de Walle translated twenty thousand he choked a little and Magill almost fell off the Issoudun bridge. In carrying out Colonel Crabill's simple order to find out what had happened to the Germans, he had stumbled right into the main column. Stunned as he was, Magill, who had once thought he wanted to be a minister, turned his seriously honest face to the German general, and repeated that it was not the platoon which was important, but the inevitable clash of arms which awaited the column up ahead. General Elster quieted somewhat. Ile lieutenant was not so wrong, after all. The column had been sniped at constantly by the Free French and the Communist FTPF (Force Tireur Partisan Francais), while the planes of XIX TAC came out of the sky at all daylight hours to harass him. His losses had already been great. A surrender, he said, might be negotiated if certain terms could be met-terms which would insure surrender with honor.

"What are the terms?" asked Magill.  "A show of force," said Elster.

"How big?"

The German studied a moment, looked at his tired but determined men. "If you can confront me with two battalions," he decided, "it could be, a surrender with honor." He might as well have asked Magill for the moon, but Sam told him he would be back the next day with word from the division commander.

Night was fast falling, and on the way back, Sam changed drivers to give Vane a rest. Big, burly Ralph Anderson of Lancaster, Ohio, took the wheel and pointed it toward Beaugency. The road was blocked from time to time by logs which had been thrown across it by snipers. The rules demanded that headlights be blacked out, but as long as Magill was way out of the rule book already, he told Anderson to turn on the lights for quick flashes to see if the road was clear, then run for it to the next turn. By using this harrowing method, they avoided roadblocks. By the time Sam got back across the Loire and reported to Colonel Crabill in his bed, it was past midnight. Crabill thought enough of the proposal to get into his clothes and drive to Chateau Renault, where General Macon was awakened and informed.

Macon shook his head. "We're stretched paper-thin now," he said. "We've got 185 miles covered by a bare 16,000 troops as it is. I don't know where I'd get two battalions. Besides, we might get over the river and get caught in the wringer and lose a lot of men." Sam talked earnestly of his belief that the German wanted to give up, not fight, and he pointed out that if the German column came on, it was eventually sure to clash with some elements of the Eighty-third in a fire fight anyway. Macon still said no, but did send the news forward to Ninth Army headquarters in Mi Foret six kilometers from Rennes itself. Crabill and Magill walked away from the General's quarters unhappily, but Crabill was not through backing up his lieutenant. "You go back down to the General at lssoudun," he said, "and talk to him some more. Let me know if you have any ideas of anything else I can do."

Still with no sleep and, worse yet, with no solution, Magill again put the Loire behind him. His brain was numb and he dozed in his seat, while Anderson watched him out of the corner of his eye and pulled him back each time he began to slump precariously to the outside of the jeep. Van de Walle was better off, having caught some snatches while Magill had been with Crabill and Macon.

Suddenly an idea struck Anderson. "Remember when we were talking to Elster," he said to Sam, "and he brought up the damage by American planes?" Dull as his senses were at that moment, Magill immediately woke up. Maybe Elster would accept show of force in the air! Magill had never asked for air support before, since his mission was to find out things, but wherever possible to avoid getting entangled in a scrap. The lonely party in the jeep took on considerably more elation than they were entitled to and, by the time they met with Elster on the Issoudun bridge again, they were eager.

Meantime, the field telephone on my tent pole rang. It was Capt. Tom Roberts, PRO of the Eighty-third, to give me a brief rundown. The Ninth Army's reaction to the news of a possible 20,000-prisoner bag was contrary to expectations. Brest and the other ports looked like an elusive prize, and Ninth Army, characterized by General Bradley as "green and ambitious" was now showing its ambition. They wanted those 20,000 prisoners. My tipster didn't have to spell out the chance Lieutenant Sam Magill had to dwarf the famous Sergeant York exploit of World War I when he picked up 132 Germans single-handed. By the phone circuits available, it was finally possible to get Twelfth Army Group at Versailles and Lt. Col. Bert Kalisch came on. By yelling as loudly as we could, I described for him the situation below the Loire and the possibilities for story and pictures. Asking him to send any interested war correspondents first to Beaugency for a check-in with Colonel Crabill, I told him of my plan to leave on September 8 and the hope that I could join Magill among the Germans to get a running account of his adventure to fill in the later arriving press.

The Ashtabula lieutenant, at the time I was phoning, was again talking to General Elster. "My general has asked me if you will accept a show of force in the air," he said. Elster was mystified. "I will radio to my division," explained Sam, "asking them to send a group of planes. They will be instructed to look for a flare we will place on this crossroads. After they come over, they are to return and look for a cloth panel on the ground. If I put out a white one, it means you are satisfied and will negotiate. If I put out a red one, they are to wait twenty minutes, then strafe and bomb your column." The General was not convinced that Magill was not running a colossal bluff, and that went double for Magill. But Magill had that honest face. General Elster agreed and Alvey cranked up the radio. Back over the relay went the message to Colonel Crabill.

The time for the show of force was set for 2 P.m., September 8. 

In a few moments, a return message came through from Crabill: "Have made request through Ninth Army. Am also going myself to XIX TAC to get everything I can."

Magill set up shop in the small lobby of the Hotel d'Angleterre in Romorantin. It was a soldier's dream come true. The FFI gave them six German PW's to do the cooking, washing and other chores. It was as if they were installed for good.

At 1:30 on the afternoon of the eighth, Magill and the Germans reported to the Issoudun bridge, and the flares were installed at the intersection letting their smoky trails go upward on the still day. As the two o'clock deadline neared, Magill and the Germans looked speculatively up at the sky. The deadline came and went. It was 2:15 and the Germans began to mutter. Then, 2:30 and the sky was still blank overhead. Magill told Van de Walle to request patience, but the Germans were fast running out of it. What's more, they felt they had been bluffed, and almost successfully. Then, at 2:47 P.M., sixteen Thunderbolt fighter-bombers came over in formation. Sam had no way of knowing whether they were the ones, but he had to chance it.

"Van," he said, "ask him, quick ! Which'll it be, white or red panel ?" Van de Waite put the question.

Elster looked at the planes, making a graceful bank, so pretty yet so lethal and ominous. "Make it white," he said, and the panel was immediately spread in the field. The planes had come so low, some of the German soldiers hit the dirt. Now they looked on in wonder and relief as the sixteen Thunderbolts returned, waggled their wings, then flew off to the north to do battle elsewhere.

This was the crucial time for Magill. Had he now been bluffed? Had he sent his only chance of salvation flying off, and would General Elster now refuse to negotiate? But General Elster kept his bargain. "Will you send an officer with full power to discuss terms?" he asked tiredly. "I will send one of mine to act as liaison with you." Sam agreed, took on a non-communicative German colonel in the already crowded jeep, and headed back to Romorantin with the tidings.

When the word came through to Beaugency, Crabill designated Lt. Col. Jules French, of Merrifield, Virginia, as exchange representative with the Germans, while Macon himself went down to talk with Elster.

"I could hardly stir up any interest in Paris for this story," Kaliscb said, "and I don't know if anyone is coming. I told 'em any tip from you was good enough for me, but it's tough to buck the Folies Bergeres these days."

We crossed the Loire on separate ferries late on the eighth and Kalisch, to make plans for his photographers, went straight to Romorantin to join Magill. Shep and I went by easy stages down Magill's primitive trap line of communications-a radio link here in a house, there in a comer of an inn, and over there in an attic. Gathering background materials on each man, I had a story on them all.'

The members of the platoon south of the Loire included: Sgt. Edward Hatcher, of Beckley, W. Va.; Corporal Lemuel Sistler, Batavia, Ill.; Albert Biro, Cleveland, Ohio; Robert F. Glasgow, Wheeling, W. Va.; Michael J. Marino, Willoughby, Ohio; Edward J. Monk, Lawrence, Mass.; Michael J. Demeter, Cleveland, Ohio; Donald E. Wilkinson, Wellsville, Ohio; William Reeves, Cincinnati, Ohio; Sgt. Robert W. Roller, Clover, Va.; Corporal David Alcala, La Verne, Calif.; William Longmire, Elizabethtown, Tenn.; Corporal Arnold Goodson, Wolf Creek, Tenn.; James H. Reilly, Thomaston, Conn.; James E. Townsend, Petoskey, Mich.; Robert H. Housenecht, Muncy Valley, Pa.; Arnold J. Marcum, Marlinton, W. Va.; Robert L. Burns, Watertown, Mass.; Stanley Pope, Caledonia, Minn.; Sgt. William L. Adams, Baltimore, Md.; Corporal Morris Weisburd, New York City, N. Y.; John W. Baird, Jr., Embarrass, Wisc.: and Sgt. John North, Bryan, Ohio.

Immediately upon our arrival at the Hotel d'Angleterre, new logistics obstacles began to appear because it had become clear that the final act of taking the 20,000 troops was not going to come off quickly. We informed Twelfth Army Group that the surrender was on, but at least ten days away. Three correspondents, however, were on the way: Collie Small, UP; Charles Haacker, Acme Newspictures; and Fred MacKenzie, Buffalo Evening News. They were charging by jeep down the Paris-Orleans road, and Collie had come away so fast he was still wearing his pajamas under his clothes. Highly upset to find they were so early, they nevertheless came down to Romorantin. Shortly afterward, Hal Boyle, AP, and Ivan H. "Cy" Peterman, Philadelphia Inquirer, arrived.

Kalisch's negotiations with Lt. Col. French and Generalmajor Elster were going along famously, it being Kalisch's plot to be sure every phase of this spectacular achievement would be on film record. To start the movie, he needed a day with his cameramen in the German assembly areas, and a guarantee that General Elster would not at the last minute demand the film. General Elster agreed to talk it out. 

Driven to the headquarters by Private First Class James B. "Sandy" Sandeen, Kalisch was presented to Elster, who found that Kalisch's mother had come from Wurttemberg, birthplace also of both Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and Elster himself. After a chat, as always, Kalisch was in, this time because of his German-born mother. So friendly was their relationship that Kalisch suggested a public surrender, like that of Cornwallis. Certainly it would be with honor, but this could only be proved if he had pictures to show, and outdoor pictures at that. Kalisch needed this condition badly, because he had no lights for indoor shooting. "Agreed," said General Elster, after fifteen minutes of Kalisch's oratory,

"I will make a public surrender, but it must be with an honor platoon and a proper military ceremony."

Kalisch promised to deliver his end, and suggested that the token of capitulation be a Luger rather than a sword which would look as out of place as cameras would have at the time of Cornwallis. This arrangement was approved by General Macon, who told Kalisch he could select the spot and time of the surrender.

Kalisch inspected the area from Orleans to Blois. He first thought of the main square in Orleans at the foot of the statue of Joan of Arc. Pictorially it was perfect, politically it was dynamite. The French authorities convinced him that massing 20,000 armed Germans in a town full of armed Maquis might result in riot and massacre. Reluctantly Kalisch looked elsewhere and found another suitable spot-Beaugency. Two roads converged on the blasted bridge. At the junction stood a house which provided a perfect camera platform and press gallery. He spoke to the proprietor, M. Hertschap, and got him to clear the second floor. Carefully, Kalisch figured out the best time for shooting film and set the surrender hour at 3 P.m. Some of the staff wanted to change the time-but when General Macon agreed, the camera- men heaved a sigh of relief.

General Charles de Gaulle was extremely interested in the details of this surrender and asked for strong assurances that the weapons of the 20,000 Germans be placed under U. S. Army guard. De Gaulle already saw France's up-coming troubles with the lawless FTPF Communists who were raiding and pillaging the countryside and would submit to no orders. De Gaulle knew what might happen if the weapons of 20,000 men fell into Communist hands. He could order the FFI one day to give up their arms, and they would, but he was equally sure the FTPF would not.

This posed Magill and his platoon with another problem, and the problems were serious enough already. There was the need to provide hay and feed for a thousand horses in the German column, fuel for 2,000 commandeered vehicles, and bread for twenty thousand troops.

The big risk, however, was that the Germans, having refused to surrender to the French were being allowed to carry their arms, loaded, all the way to the Loire.

A secondary concern was the Chateau Valancey, home of the Duc de Talleyrand, grandnephew of Napoleon's foreign minister. A British agent got in touch with Lieutenant Magill and said it was absolutely necessary that all German columns be diverted from the Chateau, the reason being that, under the Chateau, 480 of the most priceless of the Louvre art treasures, including the Winged Victory and the enigmatic Mona Lisa, had been hidden for safekeeping. Immediately, a part of Sam's platoon had to spot hundreds of mines across the Chateau road in order to make it noticeably impassable and divert any stray detachments.

As we were first looking over the Chairman grounds with one of the household staff, it was early in the morning. We were all startled when a sparkling-eyed, black-haired girl in her late teens appeared suddenly at one of the spacious second-floor windows sans a stitch of clothing.

She held her arms wide in a gesture of welcome and greeting. "Ooo, La-la," she said blowing a kiss, "Ies Americains !" We all waved, then she seemed to sense for the first time her state of nakedness, crossed her hand over her breasts, and pulled back from the window. We saw her no more. "Who was that?" somebody wanted to know. The guide explained that she was a protégée of the duke's. A little later we met the duke, who was seventy-three.

The war correspondents were busily writing day-to-day developments of the Magill-Elster saga, but did not know that all their copy was being held up by the censor. The ruling was that not one line of the story would hit print until the last PW walked into the Beaugency cage. Although this news disturbed our Romorantin contingent, they were somewhat sobered to realize how delicate our situation really was, seventy-five-miles deep in German territory. Who really had who, south of the Loire was something nobody knew for sure. The Germans were armed. the French were hostile, the custodial force was small, and some of the correspondents trying to join us were being nipped by Germans over whom General Elster seemed not to have control.

On September 12, the extreme fluidity of the situation was illustrated when a trio of correspondents departed the Third Army press camp to cover the surrender. In the jeep were six-foot-six and skinny Wright Bryan, Atlanta Journal, who had weathered two aerial D-Day runs with both paratrooper and glider-tug planes; Ed Beattie, UP; and John Mecklin, Chicago Sun. They were tooling down the road near General Pershing's old World War I headquarters town of Chaumont and found themselves less than a hundred yards from a German roadblock before they recognized it as such. All three of them were captured, and Wright was wounded in the shinbone. He was carted off to a German hospital. Beattie was a major coup, the Germans thought. He had been based in Berlin before the war and was well known to the crowd around Dr. Josef Goebbels.

John Mecklin, who had fallen, young and whole into the hands of the Germans, was waved off and sent back to the Third Army press camp, which got him a lot of needling. He was compared with the fish too short to cook which is thrown back in the lake, but his worst blow came from the traitorous conduct of his colleagues. When Mecklin returned to the Third Army press camp, he was loquacious about his experience. The rest of the correspondents fed him on brandy, questioned him closely, and at intervals, left the tent where he was holding forth to file their stories. Mecklin got around to sending his own version a day later and got a blast from the Chicago Sun, which reminded him next time to file first, then talk, since he had been scooped on his own adventure by every paper in the states.

News flashed into Atlanta, Georgia, contained the statement that Wright had been "wounded in the fleshy part of the leg." An Atlanta Journal colfort, Sam Dull, called Mrs. Bryan in an attempt to be reassuring. "I wouldn't worry yet, Ellen," he said, "bemuse we both know there ain't no fleshy part of Wright Bryan. They must have captured somebody else."

Kalisch had sent a message to his old roommate, Lt. Col. George Stevens, the celebrated Hollywood producer-director, asking him for a sound-on-film crew to be emplaced at the Beaugency bridge. George dispatched a unit bossed by Captain Joseph Biroc, whose professional Hollywood lensing had never presented anything to equal this genuine article, and backed him up by Lieutenant Bill Montague, late of Columbia Pictures in Hollywood, and First Lt. Joseph Zinni of Philadelphia, photo unit head with the Eighty-third. 

Midway in the march-up of the Germans, two more correspondents joined us, Robert Barr, BBC, and Alton W. Smalley, St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer, nailing down a Minnesota angle. Smalley found it in Stanley L. Pope, one of Magill's platoon, and Pope had a good story in that, while he was completely courageous in the face of desperate odds, he had a horror of the day when he would actually be in a spot where he would have to kill. This package capture had uncommon appeal to Pope. By stretching his circulation field somewhat, Smalley included John W. Baird, Jr., who came from the town of Embarrass, Wisconsin.

The German columns, three of them, moved up toward the destinations of Orleans, Beaugency and Blois. They included Wehrmacht (Army), Kriegsmarine (Navy), and Luftwaffe (Air Force) troops, with the Navy admiral making the trek in a horse and buggy of ancient vintage. Magill's platoon had broken camp and parts of it were riding at the head of each column.

Colonel Crabill was still anxious about these armed columns and wanted nothing to excite them. Hal Boyle and Cy Peterman had almost been in an incident when they planted their jeep at an intersection where the column made its turn for the last miles. Peterman was standing in the jeep, taking pictures.

A German lieutenant worked himself into a lather. "Look pretty," he said to his men. "Look nice for the American photographer. Let him show the Americans what real German soldiers look like." Then he lashed himself with his riding crop and was getting a little frothy at the mouth. "Get the hell down from there with that camera," said, Boyle to Peterman, "and let's get out of here. First thing you know, you'll be shooting pictures, and he'll start shooting pistols."

At this point Major Charles Madary of Baltimore, Maryland, Army manager of the Scribe, arrived from Paris with a coeducational group of correspondents, including Geoffrey Parsons, New York Herald Tribune; David Anderson, New York Times, Erika Mann, Liberty; Lady Margaret Stewart, Australian Consolidated Press; Betty Knox, London Evening Standard, and Lee Miller, Vogue.

Crabill did not want this new batch of sightseer correspondents to go across the river until the next day, so we made arrangements for them in an Orleans hotel and prepared to sweat out the next day, the seventeenth, when Generals Elster and Macon would perform the last rites.

The Paris correspondents were briefed the next morning on the complete plans, then Crabill authorized me to take them over. "Tell them to be careful," he said. "We haven't got the Germans in the cage yet, and their guns are loaded." One of the feminine war correspondents was Erika Mann, daughter of the famous Thomas Mann, who had suffered persecution and endured exile because of Hitler. As we came upon the leading elements of the column and passed alongside it down the road, Erika was emotionally moved, began to talk incoherently, then uttered profanity in the German tongue, and finally as the command car slowed, she got out. When I could get the jeep stopped and get back to her, she was less than a yard from the marching Germans, her hands on her hips, her tongue stuck out, rendering a juicy Bronx cheer right in their faces. That was the end of the ride, because she was bundled up and the retinue went back to the Beaugency bridge to await the rest of the affair. By then, no Germans would be armed, and it would be a lot safer for her to stick out her tongue.

At 3 P.m. Generalmajor Eric Elster came up to the bridge in his battered Citroen got out, surveyed the scene: the battery of motion picture cameras, the microphone, and General Macon backed by division, corps, Air Force and Ninth Army staff representatives. He probably did not notice some hasty scurrying at the left of the receiving group, where I hustled Lieutenant Sam Magill into position with the staff. He had been sitting on the fence, because nobody had seen fit to include him. As Magill came up, one of the Ninth Army colonels, fresh from the States, and seeing his first German soldier, looked about with some disgust, wondering at the discipline of the Eighty-third Infantry Division for having "gate-crashing" lieutenants at a time like this.

Lt. Col. Jules French placed himself on General Elster's left. "Shall we go, Herr General?" he asked, quietly.

Elster, pulling down on his tunic and straightening his cap, managed a smile. "Ja, mein Oberst," he said, and they moved out.

The whir of the cameras was like a hive of bees, and New York Timesman David Anderson wrote that this must have been "the best covered surrender of this, or any war." What no one knew then was that the story was being smothered by a trio of airborne divisions--the American Eighty-second, and 101st and the British First-being dropped in the Netherlands at Nijmegen, Eindhoven, and Arnhem. The censor pulled the stop off both events at the same time, and relegated Magill's tremendous exploit to second-string position. 

But Paramount News made a special out of the movie film, labeling it unreservedly, "The Strangest Story of the War," and afterward, in the November 11, 1944, Saturday Evening Post, Collie Small, UP, wrote of the event and described the setting:  "News of the war south of the Loire drifted into the bar at the Scribe Hotel in Paris where correspondents gather nightly to plot new ways of poisoning the censors, who also drink at the Scribe bar, but from different stools-like big-league umpires and ballplayers. The inevitable happened almost immediately. Army public-relations officers, who never tire of devising new ways to torture weary correspondents, announced prematurely that 20,000 Germans were surrendering

For months, Walter Cronkite, UP, and Bill Boni, AP, had been earmarked as post-Netherlands liberation bureau chiefs in Amsterdam for their respective agencies. Neither expected in his wildest dreams that they would become journalistic "firsts" by going to their jobs in gliders. Cronkite, with William Wade, INS; Gladwin Hill, AP; Homer Bigart, New York Herald Tribune; Bob Post, New York Times (who was lost in action); and Andy Rooney, Stars and Stripes, had been original members of the close coterie, "the Writing Sixtyninth," or air correspondents who covered the first B-17 raids on Berlin. When Cronkite and Boni set forth with the 101st and Eighty-second Airborne Divisions on September 17, 1944, it was the thirteenth airborne mission for which Cronkite had been briefed-all the others having been scrubbed.

The following morning. Three hours later, they frantically announced it was all it mistake, and for everyone to stay as far away as possible, because the Germans might not surrender after all. Unfortunately, three of us left between announcements .... 11 "Unfortunately," Collie Small wrote, but this exploit of Sam Magill got Small a contract with the Saturday Evening Post, and tripled his salary, among other things.

Sam Magill, who crossed the English Channel a lieutenant, went home a lieutenant at war's end. This was partly because Colonel Crabill said he felt Sam's platoon "was more valuable to the security of the regiment than another battalion of infantry would have been, and I never considered him replaceable in that job." 

Once, much later, he was offered a captaincy if he would leave the platoon, but he refused, saying he would see the "boys" through to the end of the war, which he did. 

The nervy exploit of Magill, who violated orders, penetrated into German-held territory a hundred miles, and brought off the first big PW bag for the Ninth Army, finally was put on orders for the Legion of Merit eleven months after the incident. 

The war was over, and he was about to go home with the Ninety-ninth Infantry Division. They didn't give him the ribbon in the Scribe bar, or even in a ceremony. 

He had to go to a Ninety-ninth Division supply room and draw it.

This article is presented through the courtesy of Mr. Fred C. Pearson, 453rd AAA, 83rd Infantry Division.

83rd Division
After Action Against Enemy
11 November 1944

9 September 1944
FFI sources reported to Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon Leader of the 329th Infantry that a German march column under command of Brigadier General ELSTER wished to surrender to an American force under conditions which he desired to stipulate.

Information was reported through channels to Ninth United States Army and negotiations were begun for surrender of these forces.

11 September 1944
The Commanding General, 83rd Division, went to ISSODUN and there met General ELSTER, Commander of the German forces, who wished to surrender.  In accordance with instructions of the Commanding General, Ninth Army, terms were presented for the surrender and were accepted by General ELSTER.  Details for the movement of the German force North to the LOIRE were arranged, and a liaison officer from Division Headquarters was left with General ELSTER to coordinate the movement of the Germans with the plans for their reception North of the LOIRE.

15 September 1944
Preparations were made to receive General ELSTER'S forces at BRAUGENCY (F473092) and ORLEANS (S68823).

2d Battalion, 329th Infantry contacted headquarters of a French Parachute Battalion in BRIARE, on a report that 8,000 of the enemy desired to surrender.  Investigation disclosed these Germans formed one column of General ELSTER'S troops marching north to LOIRE RIVER to surrender.  Other reports of marching enemy columns involved the town of JARGEAU and area east of ORLEANS.  A check revealed these reports to be false.

15 September 1944
The Commanding General, 82rd Infantry Division, accepted the formal surrender of the Commanding General, German forces south of the LOIRE, at BEAUGENCY (F473092) at 1530 in behalf of the Army of the United States (See Item 475, G-2, G-3 Journal, 16 September 1944).

General ELSTER, Commanding General of a conglomerate grop of troops from south FRANCE, presented his pistol as a token of surrender to General MACON.

General ELSTER, realizing the hopelessness of ever breaking through the Allied lines at the BELFORT GAP with the troops under his command, having his columns constantly harassed by FFI attacks and American Air Force bombing, and having lost his confidence in the present German high command, decided to surrender to American forces.  Having made this decision, and taking advantage of contact with the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, 329th Infantry on 9 September 1944, he conferred with American Army representatives on details for the surrender.  General ELSTER then marched his troops toward river crossing sites at ORLEANS and BEAUGENCY, and surrendered.

17 September 1944
General ELSTER'D forces laid down their arms and completed surrender at ORLEANS and BEAUGENCY, after the formal surrender of the 16th.  The enemy columns crossed the river and were confined to prisoner of war enclosures by dark.  A total of 754 officers and 18,851 enlisted men were taken prisoner.

Large quantities of supplies and equipment captured from the Germans south of the LOIRE RIVER were turned over to the Ninth U. S. Army.

(The above report, in its entirety, is available under "After Action Reports")
Page last revised 03/23/2021
James D. West