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.
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.
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
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
An otherwise unfunny war produces a hilarious prelude to the surrender of 20,000 German soldiers and their officers.
Saturday Evening Post
by COLLIE SMALL - PARIS.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
The Nervy Exploit of
Lt. Sam Magill
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.
Sam was thinking only of his platoon, rather than the division. I've got my platoon...."
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."
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."
"Van," he said, "ask him, quick ! Which'll it be, white or red panel ?" Van de Waite put the question.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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
James D. West