|Even as the last cylinder of the German war
machine burned out, the Division was tracking down big-name Nazis and rescuing prominent
Allied leaders. In one forceful stroke of liberation an attached tank crew of the 12th
Armored Division and four infantrymen of the 142nd Infantry released from German captivity
much of the-glory-that-had-been-France in the personages of two former prime
ministers, a former chief of staff, a leading general, a tennis star, and a labor leader.
The French were rescued when a task
force, commanded by Captain John Lee, climbed the mountain to Itter in a midnight ride
past parked hostile German vehicles, and reached the twelfth century Alpine castle of
Itter. There the German commandant offered the castle in surrender, freeing the notables.
But all around the castle at the time were other
German troops, retreating before the American advance. When they learned what had happened
during the night and how insignificant was the American force, they attacked strongly in
the morning, attempting to retake the castle and kill their former prisoners. An
"88" firing from a railroad tunnel below, knocked out the lone American tank and
blasted gaping holes in the old stone building.
|German "88" firing from below, blasted holes in the
rear of the tower.
||Captain Lee organized his meager force for
defense. The German major who had surrendered the castle likewise placed his men to ward
off the fanatical, attacking storm troopers. Even the French leaders took part. Daladier
was reported to have returned to the castle arsenal for ammunition more than once. The
"Bounding Basque," Jean Borota, famed tennis player of former years, slipped out
in peasant disguise, ambled down the road to contact men of the 142nd's 2nd Battalion,
already on the way to help.
castle being well-sited on a high knoll, the few defenders were able to withstand at a
minimum loss the repeated SS assaults. At the height of the action, while yet wondering if
assistance would come, the German major was killed by a sniper's bullet.
|At 1500 in the afternoon, long after the defenders
had run out of ammunition, Lt. Colonel Marvin J. Coyle's 2nd Battalion of the 142nd drove
through the SS ranks and opened the road to the castle, this time for good.
Those liberated included: Eduoard Daladier and Paul Reynaud,
former prime ministers; General Maurice Gamelin, former commander of the French Army;
General Maxime Weygand, commander of the French Army at the time of the German defeat, and
his wife; Mme. Alfred Cailliau, sister of General Charles de Gaulle, and her husband;
Michel Clemenceau, son of the French statesman; Jean Borotra, tennis star; Leon Jouhaux,
secretary of the Confederation General du Travail; and several secretaries.