71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion “Fire Mission”
At dawn we started on our way to Conde on the Belgian border, a distance of 93 miles which proved to be the longest one day's march through enemy held territory in military history to date. Our little cub liaison planes certainly proved their worth that day, acting as the sole recon agents for the combat command during the entire march. The loss of Lt. Francies's plane when he crashed into a fence while taking off was sorely felt.
"--the people were happy and they all came out to tell us about it. They were all cheering us and at the same time asking for cigarettes and bon-bons. They threw a lot of flowers at us as we passed by. We had been having a little trouble with snipers and I was thinking about that; we had been told that when a bullet hit you it didn't hurt right away, but just paralyzed you. Well, this was it! I saw all my post-war plans go up in smoke. I was hit right in the chest and couldn't get my breath. I felt with my hand expecting to feel the blood which I knew must be all over me by this time. I looked down, no blood, but right at my feet lay a nice big green apple. Then I saw this kid; he was all ready to throw another. After that I didn't worry so much about snipers, it was the apples I looked for." (S/Sgt. Clarence C. Demlow, "A" Btry)
On this drive we developed the tactic of placing one fire direction vehicle and a gun battery immediately behind the leading married company of tanks and infantry. Placing this battery in position well forward, when the column was halted, and bringing another battery forward in the column enabled us to give continuous artillery support.
We arrived at our objective at 2300 hours with the column making 20 miles per hour most of the time. Despite the fact that we arrived under the cover of darkness, the French lined the streets, and though we were unable to see them, their shouts of joy drowned out the roar of our motors.
During the deep dark of the night Cpl. La Vern Johnson was in the process of relieving himself over a "cat hole" when six Frenchmen, three women and three men, came up to express their gratitude for their liberation. Upon discovering what he was doing, one of the fairer sex gave him a loving pat on the most exposed part of his body, giggled and went on about her celebration.
"During the long march, we had run out of drinking water. I took the jeep and headed for a farm house. I handed the water can to the farmer and tried to explain that I wanted a can of water and would also like to buy a bottle of cider. He said "Oui oui", and took the can. In a little while he was back with the five gallon water can full of cider. I didn't object."
The next morning our area seemed like a carnival ground. The French dressed in their Sunday best thronged around each vehicle, giving us no privacy at all. Our
The same morning another enemy column was observed several thousand yards away across a lake. We laid the batteries for direction on the cub plane, circling above the target. In the concentration, we destroyed three 88's, half their vehicles and killed an undetermined number of personnel. When the remainder of that column pulled out of range, we enjoyed enjoining the civilians in watching the fighter-bombers work them over.
"Sunday afternoon we moved about three hundred yards to another position for cover. I was informed to have my blankets, etc., ready to leave for an outpost. It was decided that the guard would start at 2200 as none of us would be asleep before that. We would each spend one hour and forty minutes at the turret of the maintenance half-track and that would, with the six of us, carry the guard till eight the following morning. I finished my shift at 0300 and woke my relief, Bobby Breen, and was on my way for some sleep.
I was just about dozing off when I heard, "Come out of there, you sons of bitches!" The 50 caliber machine gun started roaring. In a few seconds I was on my way over to the track and I recognized Sturm at the gun. He was still firing in short bursts. It was pitch black - but not for long - just then a flare went off followed by a potato masher hand grenade which as luck would have it hit a branch in a tree and went off on the other side of a hedge. At the same time Charlie battery, in position directly behind us, fired two rounds of interdiction over our heads. Their target was a crossroad miles away, but the noise demoralized the Krauts.
A wooden shelter was now on fire from the tracers and some Krauts fully
armed were visible, squealing like happy pigs. These Heinies were coming
towards us hollering something that sounded like "Dunne Shozen! Dunne
Shozen!" I ran down the hedgerow and it was so dark that I ran right into
a German. I brought the stock of my carbine into his belly and his Luger fell
into the hedge and he into a pile of barbed wire. By that time I could
hardly believe my eyes. Germans were coming out from all around and they looked
like walking arsenals.
They were scattered all over the open area near our post and what we had thought might be about twenty, looked now like a few hundred. It was here I had an opportunity to reveal for the first time to the German Army two-thirds of the German phrases I knew. I gave them, "Handy Hoch" and it sure was quite a pleasant feeling to see their hands go up. I then called in English, "Who can speak English," and out stepped a little runt of a corporal. I told him to tell them to drop their arms. He did and they obliged. I then gave them "Zuruck" (get back) to get them away from their guns and grenades. Men from the battery arrived and everything was settled. The bag was 119 prisoners." (Pvt. Ferguson, Hq Btry)
FRONT STABILIZES AS WINTER COMES
The battalion moved farther back into
September 24th was the first Sunday since entering combat that we failed to move. Even though this was a period of inactivity, the effects of the few rounds we fired were verified by a PW report that stated that our artillery caused one casualty a day in his platoon alone.
Duffle bags arrived from where they had been stored and we prepared for the coming winter by digging out our G.I. longjohns, overcoats and Red Cross sweaters. We soon learned the trick of building a large fire during the day and at dusk covering it with a large flat rock to stand on while on guard during the night. In that way we kept our feet warm.
On the morning of October 5th, we covered our unit markings on the bumpers with mud, removed our shoulder patches, and strict radio silence was imposed. As we moved northward a special unit moved into our old positions, set up dummy guns and vehicles and sent "canned" radio messages, to make it seem as though we were still there.
After an 85 mile march the battalion assembled one mile east of
For the first time since leaving
October 15th, a cold rainy sunday, we moved into position 8000 yards southwest of
For protection against night strafing Luftwaffe, the first thing we did was to throw up the camouflage nets. These huge nets were hard enough to put up in the daytime, but now with the additional handicaps of sinking into mud up to our knees, and the waterlogged condition of the nets, it was almost an impossible task. After an hour of swearing, they were finally in place.
We had crossed the border and were now into
As soon as it got light, fires were started and the heat was the nicest feeling one could experience. I made a solemn promise to myself that if I ever get home, I am going to live in
We were no longer needed in that area after
The Germans had the foresight to install a distillery and maintain a wine cellar - mostly stocked with Rhine wine. It was furnished with a pleasing combination of rare antiques and modern furniture. In contrast with this mode of life was the existance of the gun batteries in their home-made shelters.
"On October 30th we pulled into an area near Kalterherberg, known to us of Able Battery as "Snow hill". At first, we thought it was going to be rough up there, but it proved to be one of the most pleasant periods of the Rhineland Campaign. The chow was the outstanding feature of our entire stay there. The gun sections had to
remain outdoors for we were in firing positions. My section, the Executive Section, was more fortunate; we got to stay in a large stone barn. We backed our half-track in, hooked up our radio, blacked out the doors, and
established our beds in the high soft haylofts. At night we hooked a light to our battery and had some sociable poker games. Just outside the barn, we had a small shack and here was ourstove. As long as we stayed on "Snow Hill", our regular army chow was supplemented by delicious venison steaks. The nearby forests
abounded with deer, and several times you could count three deer carcasses hanging in the cold. Here also we had our first heavy snowfall of the winter. The snow covering the hills and pine trees was indeed a beautiful sight. It seemed almost impossible to believe that death lurked in those woods.
"Our biggest worry on "Snow Hill" was the buzz bombs. You could hear them coming, but the low-hanging clouds would obscure observation of them. A number of times these damn things had the filthy habit of cutting off near our positions. It was then that things became so still that if somebody dropped a messkit, everyone would dive for the ground.
"The gun sections had built themselves little shacks. When we needed coal, we just went to near-by Kalterherberg and helped ourselves, and I mean helped ourselves. This was the life. Here the smells and sights of war were not present. Only good, clean, fresh mountain air. For those two weeks we had almost forgotten the war. Then came our winter offensive, and our planes literally covered the sky. "This was it," we thought - the Germans would be beaten vey soon. Then orders came to move on. The war was catching up with
us again." (Pfc. Marengello, "A" Btry)
During our occupation of this area S/Sgt Mylertz, who had one of the longest records of service with
the battalion, was evacuated due to an accident which occurred when he was returning from Service Battery.
T/5 Richard Hillas, the driver, in negotiating some very bad turns enroute, slid off the road and hit a tree.
Sgt Mylerts lost the thumb and index finger of his right hand. "B" Battery lost a valuable asset and good soldier.
"--- two German cows charged our C.P. today. After a stiff battle and counter-attack we were able to hold our own, and killed the attackers --- the steaks were very good." (S-3 Record of Events)
On November 18th we moved out of the snow into the mud in the vicinity of
battery positions at Roetgen. It had been a rather long trip, we were all tired and now going into position in a big muddy field with no place to sleep was damn rough on our morale; we felt "browned off" against the world in general. There was the usual stuff of laying the telephone lines and getting the guns in position. And the mud -- what the hell were these Krauts fighting for anyway? Well, we finally finished getting set. One of the guys had been saving some buzz bomb juice for just such a time; he must have sensed it. We downed that, threw our camouflage net in the mud, pitched our pup-tents over it and passed out of this world, at least temporarily.
"Thanksgiving came. Yeh, we had turkey, plenty of chow, but it also rained and our mess kits filled faster than we could eat out of them. The weather there was memorable. It was just plain lousy. Later we "borrowed" some pyramidal tents from a Q.M. dump and found some hay and put up stoves. But in spite of these comforts, the short days and long nights were a pain in the butt. Nothing to do but fire a few interdiction rounds
occasionally. The only thing we can't kick about was the fact that it wasn't bad here as far as enemy stuff
coming in. But the monotony was something we can never forget. We call it the three week solitary
confinement in Roetgen!"
We had much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. We were fortunate to be alive, and we were grateful that the material destruction and damage of war was not in our country and on our homes. We could look forward with hope -- if and when we could return -- to resuming a normal familiar way of living. Each withdrew a little into his own mind and thoughts that day. We reminisced fondly over the past, the family gatherings and the
traditional football games.
Sunday, December 3rd, the Germans sent over two flights of ME-109's. "B" Battery of the 387 AAA Bn, aided by our single-mounted fifties, earned an acknowledgement in the daily German communique, quote, "Four of our aircraft are missing,"
HURTGEN -- TWO WEEKS OF HELL!
On December 17th, another Sunday, news broadcasts informed us of a German
spectacular display of strength.
Huge dog-fights filled the sky over our position. We rushed to the top of the hills to get a clear view of the activity and cheered lustily as we watched seven Kraut planes blasted from the air. But during the night, and for several nights, we were kept on edge by the flares of low flying bombers hunting our troop concentrations.
"At the time of the break-through, Service Battery was stationed at Walheim and got its share of the
bombing given the troops in that area. Three nights in succession the Germans sent out bombers and no one
got too much sleep then. Two men, Pfc. Davenport and Pfc. B. Smith, were injured from one of the bombs." (Sgt. Conrad,
The day before Christmas we received orders to displace to the vicinity of
"The ride out of Hurtgen will always be a memorable occasion to me. I am a machine gunner on an M-7. Before we left I dressed up for that ride. I had on two pair of socks, my shoes, overshoes, two pair of O.D. pants, my shirt, two sweaters, a field jacket and an overcoat. I thought sure that we would be observed by enemy planes and was stretching my neck watching for an attack. As we rode along all feeling semed to have left me. I was numb with cold. The M-7 ahead of us was throwing fine powered snow into my face. My fingers were so cold that tears of pain rolled out of my eyes. God, how I longed for a little warmth. When we finally did reach our bivouac area, I was so stiff and red that I could hardly make it out of the full-track. It was Christmas Eve, yes even though cold and miserable, it was damn nice to be around." (Pfc. Slaff, "A" Btry)
Although the number of casualties in the battalion was not high, those suffered were serious. Lt. Walter S. La Fan, "A" Btry, got face wounds from a mortar shell. Cpl. Chet Foley, "A" Btry, received a chest wound from falling flak. T/5 Fred Bucci was wounded while working on his tank under fire. Lt. Barry returned from observing fire with his tank scarred by seven hits from an A.T. gun and was evacuated with a fragment in his eye. Lt. Norman McNees' ample rear stopped a splinter of a shell.
SIMPSON'S 9TH DRIVES TO RHINE
Our battalion occupied non-firing positions at Welkenraedt, Belgium, and remained on constant alert for
future commitment. The division was placed in 21st Army Group, reserve, with the possibility of being used anywhere on the north side of the German salient.
We bivouaced in the wind-swept, snow-covered fields at the edge of the town. At home it would have
been perfect Christmas weather. At night the moon was nearly full, and in the quiet, blacked-out country-side, one could imagine hearing sleigh bells. The civilians were noticeably anxious over the Von Rundstedt
counter-offensive, and the occasion was none too cheerful for them.
Our cooks worked the night through preparing the dinner for the next day, an exceptional Christmas dinner even for the Army -- and our morale was boosted by their efforts. However, the sight of the Belgien children hungrily seeking the scraps we left in our mess kits brought home the irony of the thought, "Peace on Earth, good will toward men."
On December 27th, Lt. Alexander D. Fraser and Sgt. Harold M. Freeman were killed by a bomb when taking a shower at a hospital unit located in Verviers. The pleasant personalities of these two men were sorely missed by all of us.
Our reconnaissance sections were continuously making studies of possible
defensive positions and
routes of approach to them during these days. With each day the immediate threat of German success in the
On the last night of the year, the Hun left us his best wishes for the coming year in the shape of a 500 pound bomb. No casualties occurred though it landed thirty-five yards from an FO tank and its sleeping crew. Many windows were shattered in Headquarters area, and the cooks of that battery were disgusted at having a cherry pie ruined by falling plaster.
New Year's morning the fighter planes returned in force; we were eating breakfast when they came. The first thing we knew someone yelled, "Jerries!" The ack-ack opened fire and most of the men ran for cover.
The planes tried to strafe, but the AA boys were on the ball. Of the seven or eight planes that came
over, six were shot down. The planes came in so low that the flak was cutting the tops of the trees over our heads. No one was hurt, but nearly every man thought, "What a hell of a way to start a New Year."
We were fast becoming acquainted with the civilians in the area. The children of the neighborhood lined up in the chow line as regularly as we did. Left-overs were carried home by them for their parents' meal. They quickly learned our most commonly used phrases, and we'd often be greeted by them with a, "Hello, Sad Sack." Any of our requests received the familiar, "Oh my Aachen-back", response. The Belgiques were willing enough to charge a stranger any price for cognac or wine, but the generosity and hospitality extended to us, the soldiers they knew, could not have been warmer. After our month's stay more than half the men were settled in
Even now, after V-E day, if a man wearing a Fifth Armored Division patch walks down the streets of
Welkenraedt, he's approached by nearly every girl who sees him and asked, "Do you know where so and so is?"
On January 27th we loaded into our white-painted vehicles and formed into column on the road. To us, this was just another miserable move. We had left any sentiment and sorrow at a parting in the states long before. But the Belgiques came out of their homes and stood in the snow, many with tears in their eyes, to wish us luck and a fond good-bye.
We moved to
campaigning. The CP was in a German administrative pill-box and Americans had built additional "dug-out" houses around this center. We took over the positions of the 308th F.A. Bn. This unit was motorized, and had been in the area for more than a month. They had used the time to build quite elaborate quarters with built-in bunks, stoves, curtains, and telephones in each dug-out. The pill-box itself was covered with many feet of dirt and carefully camouflaged with sod and young trees. It was constructed of reinforced concrete and though an elaborate ventilation system had been installed the the place was damp and miserably cold.
While here, two men received battlefield commissions. Chief Warrant Officer Guy J. Tipton and
Tech Sgt. Stanley W. Hauenschild became second lieutenants.
CC"A"'s mission was soon completed and we returned to Montzen
inactive days, after which we moved to an area near