The story of THE 71st Arm'd F.A. Bn. in the E.T.O.
TO THE MEMBERS OF THE 71st ARMORED F.A. BATTALION
This is the story of the men of the 71st in combat through
familiar with all the operations of all of the individuals of the battalion. I hope that this story will serve as a framework which will help you to keep alive those memories which are dearest to you.
To have had the privilege of serving with you throughout these campaigns will be the greatest memory of my life, and to have commanded this battalion is an honor the equal of which has come to few men.
Although our job in this war has been completed, the memories that we carry in our hearts will never be forgotten. We know that each one has done his utmost to make possible the success of our mission.
You may be proud of the part that you have played in achieving this great victory.
I. B. Washburn
Lt. Col. F.A.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
FREEDOM OF PRESS
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
FREEDOM FROM WANT
"THAT THESE DEAD SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN-VAIN .......
PHILLIP C. BARBERA, Pvt. KENNETH LaFRAMBOISE, Tec 5
MICHAEL DICKEY, Sgt.
FREDERICK FLORIO, Sgt. HARRY E. NICHOLSON, Tec 4
ALEXANDER D. FRASER, 1st Lt. ILARIO RAMIREZ, Tec 5
HAROLD M. FREEMAN, Sgt. CHARLES WALDON , Pvt
OFIELD JARRELL, Sgt. EDWARD G. WILKENS, Pvt
JAMES J. JULIAN, Pvt
AMERICAN 3D ARMY MASSES IN ENGLAND
As the trucks of the battalion convoy topped one of the ground swells of Salisbury Plains our eyes were attracted by one unnatural feature - a straight row of kitchen "flies" - the work of the advance party, a sign that we had arrived at our temporary home.
We'd ridden about 90 miles that day, a long day's work, and were anxious to get settled. But where? Accustomed to the strict camouflage discipline of the D-day staging area, we wondered how we were to conceal ourselves here. It was soon explained. We weren't!
Transits had been used to line up our pup tents to form a battery street. The parking line of the motor park was as true as instruments could make it. In camouflage conscious
While chiefs-of-sections and drivers drew the vehicles and equipment stored during the Sausage Camp campaign, those men left in camp busied themselves with digging in the customary conveniences and improving pup-tents. Lumber was at a premium. Eight or ten inch boards used for the foundation and a V-form substituted for the poles added an amazing amount of room in the squat pup-tents - enough space to enable a foursome to crowd inside for an evening game of pitch or double-deck pinochle. Service battery hauled baled straw to cushion the ground for sleeping; a steel helmet set on a triangle of stakes driven behind each tent served as a wash stand.
It wasn't long before we were initiated into the need for another improvement. The first rain came lashing in from the north, driven by a strong wind. The battery streets were laid east and west, and half the tents of the battalion opened to the north. One part of us was silently thankful our tents faced south, while laughing at the rest trying to dry blankets in
Additional tentage was urgently needed. Gradually this need was filled by rain-coats, torn canvas and salvaged shelter halves. The solution of that problem raised two other minor problems. If it rained in the daytime, as it frequently did, we had the choice of getting wet as we worked or of having a wet bed. The other problem was the first sergeants, who found it necessary at times to stop, lift each flap, and look for stragglers when the duty whistles had blown. Bunk fatigue was a scarce commodity and as a rule came at a high price. Did you ever dig a hole 6 x 6 x 6?
No one knew how much time we had to ready ourselves and there was a lot of work to be done. The training schedule was designed to keep everyone busy, and it was followed to the letter. Reveille, chow, police, calisthenics, foot drill, and a hike were an assured part of each day's routine. The use of the remaining hours of the day were subject to variation: vehicle maintenance, inspections, first aid classes, practical demonstrations on mines and demolitions, pronunciation classes for useful French phrases (these classes frequently ended in a discussion of useful phrases not in any book), training with code systems for communications, and aircraft identification.
At other times we had section training. In the gun sections we drilled at the "cannoneers' hop" until each of us knew every step in handling rounds and firing the gun; we knew exactly where every piece of equipment was kept so that even the blackest night wouldn't interfere with our bringing fire on the enemy. It was "cut and dried" for most of us. Yet, under the urgency of knowing in a few weeks it wouldn't be a "dry run", that seconds would count then, we perfected every movement. We'd worked together for years; we'd handled the guns in training the the officer candidates at
Nearly everything on the schedule was "dry run". We even had classes on sighting and aiming our carbines. That's dull! "Take a breath, hold it, get the sight picture, squeeze." The prone position was the best - the closest we'd get to bunk fatigue those days. But it wasn't all dry run, and the added zest kept us willing to learn.
One day we had a formation to listen to an army psychiatrist; he spoke to us on fear, a natural reaction we would all experience and must learn to overcome. We weren't in any danger there on the plains, but we could anticipate being afraid in the near future. Some went to special schools. T/Sgt. Meeker returned from a school in
The only break in the routine was offered by the small quota of six hour passes to
On an unusual English Sunday morning - when the sun was shining - the regular routine was interrupted with the arrival of a messenger from Division Headquarters with the long anticipated orders - "Combat Load". Immediately the atmosphere in the battalion changed.
Each of us shed our desire to "soldier" a little, to await the duty whistle or an order before performing a task. We didn't sprout wings and become angels, but for our own satisfaction we wanted the battalion to be ready and we did our share of the work. Almost immediately Service battery's trucks began hauling loads of ammunition and additional equipment. Our usually neat half-tracks and vehicles were buried under the avalanche of goods required to conduct armored warfare. Rearrangements of equipment were continuously tried in order to obtain the maximum room and efficiency for normal operation. Additional attachments were needed to hold all the materiel and one of the memorable scenes was the blue lights thrown by the welding torches of Service battery's maintenance crew as they worked throughout the nights.
Last minute arrival of some of the M-7s caused long hours of additional work for our gun sections. At last all was in readiness and we received the orders to proceed to the marshalling area near
Upon arrival at the marshalling area after an eighteen hour road march our visions of steak and French fries were shattered when a British KP asked, "Will it be one or two dogs, old chap?" The feeling of disgust over the menu was intensified by the filth and inconveniences of the camp.
"They were just dirty old pyramidal tents hidden in the swamp. We arrived late at night, hungry, tired, and the buzz-bombs warnings were indeed an innovation to our ears, and yes, our fears. That dull voice announcing the coming of one of those infernal machines, the feverish hunt for a fox hole, one look at one of those hole made a man rather take a chance on a buzz-bomb. They were nothing but open latrines." (Cpl. Persikini, "A" Btry)
Although the march to the
"We spent the day loading vehicles on
Early the next morning the First Sergeants woke their men from their slumbers on the cold concrete and "borrowed" folding bunks. After roll call, we filed up the gang-plank. We started our voyage across the channel with the main body of the battalion on two Liberty Ships, the Medical Detachment sharing a third with another unit, and the Personnel Section spearheading for us on an L.S.T.
The accomodations on board ship for troops were very limited and for the first time since Tennessee Maneuvers "C" Rations were the menu. No kitchens were provided, therefore three times daily we sweated out our turn to heat "C" Rations at a steam valve on deck. Only fifty bunks were available for two hundred men, so we were organized into shifts for sleeping.
We played cards during the uneventful crossing, but when the coastline of
We slowly worked our way into
Probably the most exciting incident that happened to us was when one of the barges had engine failure and slowly drifted out toward th channel. It drifted helplessly for awhile, with uncleared underwater mine-fields adding to the danger. With the aid of one motor, however it was able to tie up alongside a ship farther out.
As the landing craft hit the beach the individual vehicles raced with the guidance of God and the M.P.'s to an assembly area a mile or so inland, and we experienced for the first time shell-torn Normandy. Signs announced that the roads were cleared of mines to the shoulders, but frequently we were forced to detour minefields marked with white tape. The battered pillboxes, torn barbed wire entanglements, shattered houses, and destroyed and abandoned equipment gave us our first true picture of the fury of the assault. Huge supply depots and busy quartermaster units gave us proof that our armies had the backing to exploit their initial successes.
"How so many people showed up to greet us is beyond me. Should have stopped and asked 'em how they managed to live through it. The information would've come in mighty handy in the days to come. The way cigarettes, by the package, were being tossed out, to the cry "cigarette pour papa," one would think the Camel Caravan was passing through. Finally reached our bivouac area. Dispersed the vehicles according to the book, but - someone lost the book before the day was over and we were on our own. At dusk we heard an enemy plane overhead. Can't miss it. Sounds like an outboard motor (1 lunger) in need of a 6000 mile check. Somebody immediately dubbed him "bed- check Charlie" and lemme tell you - he didn't leave us 'til we reached the
PATTON POURS ARMOR THROUGH
About two o'clock in the afternoon we started our approach march to St.Hilaire du Harcouet, where the division would assemble before exploiting the break-through against the crumbling German resistance. The route of march was on dusty, back roads as we followed the path cleared by the Infantry. Our eyes opened wide at the battered and burned German equipment knocked out at every tactical road crossing.
Everyone of us eyed a Kraut corpse, swollen because of the heat, lying by the road. Some French refugees were using the road too, but not many, and this proved to be the only time we were to see French people who had been driven from their homes by the war. The slugging match that drove civilians from their homes and destroyed cities was not our style of fighting. We were destined for long marches and short bitter battles as we destroyed the enemy's lines of communication and supply.
After an all night black-out drive we arrived at the bivouac area near St. Hilaire du Harcouet. We'd had our nerves set on edge by several experiences during that night - the column had broken, we had passed in front of our own artillery firing on Avranches and by- passed a Jerry air raid on that area. The daylight was welcome and our new home was deep in the hedge-row country. Our basic French phrases were put to use to obtain eggs, cognac and champagne. The majority of the time was divided between guard and attempts to make the new ten-in-one rations more appetizing. That day the Boche sent over strafing fighter planes. The one-tenth-of-a second recognition training we'd had in the states was of little avail; the clouds on the slides did not correspond to the clear blue sky of
"Scared? I guess we were! We had heard of all the things we had to sweat out and had talked and wondered just how it would be, but when the bombers came over the first time at night, we forgot everything and hunted a hole, which by the way, never seemed deep enough. First the ack-ack opened up and then flares lit up the whole area. Then the bombs. They were after a crossroad near us but it seemed as though every one of the bombs dropped was aimed directly at you. It was over almost as soon as it started, with nobody too much the worse for wear." (Pfc. Merrel, "C" Btry)
"I was lying in my fox-hole on a blanket, clad only in my shorts, the rest of my clothes being beside my bed-roll, out of which I had crawled in nothing flat. Suddenly, as I was waiting for that next bomb to land, I felt something cold and clammy on my bare leg. My first thought was that I had been hit by flying shrapnel. I was scared stiff! I touched my leg and expected to find blood. Imagine my surprise and relief, when I discovered a frog was sharing my fox- hole with me." (Cpl. Wolkofsky, "C" Btry)
Our first prisoner, a Nazi paratrooper, was captured by "A" battery and this only served to increase our trigger happiness. We were thus assured the enemy was close and a challenging "Halt" at night really froze us in our tracks. While acquainting ourselves with the normal noises of the night, we fired more than one clip of ammunition at a grazing cow or horse.
Next day Lt. Col. Washburn, our Battalion Commander, announced our first objective at the Battery Commander's meeting. The Combat Command was to capture and secure two crossings on the
Our first mission as artillery took place at two thirty in the morning. Captain Roueche, assistant S-3, computed the initial data from a road map, no small task in itself. "C" battery fired.
"To "C" battery it was another bivouac until we were actually ordered into position. Some thought it was a fuel stop, others, just another halt. But as it was: Lt. Harrison, F.O. for the battalion, had located an 88 position. Guns were laid, fire commands given, and deflection and elevation set off by Cpl. E.L.Hoak and Pvt. Charles Rogers. Then the command of "Fire" was given by Sgt. Ofield Jarrell and the first round fired was on the way by the fourth section. Corrections were made in the firing data and the battery was brought to bear on the target, neutralizing it." ("C" Btry)
With the menace of the 88 removed, we refueled, march ordered, and the column hit the road again with the objective to cut the roads to the south and east of
Here we first learned to distrust church steeples that were in enemy hands. Each one of us claimed to have shot at least one sniper from there. Perhaps more dangerous than the German force was our own fire ricocheting from the stone walled buildings. Several casualties in Hq Btry resulted, M/Sgt. Leitten was grazed and Cpl.
Mahoney and Pfc. Lanham evacuated. This, our first fire fight, was a big lesson, giving us confidence in our ability to meet and kill the enemy and proving the versatility of the 71st to fight any type of opposition in its support of the leading elements.
Five miles beyond Maigne the column halted on the road and the warning "Snipers on the left" was passed down the column. Once again there was a terrific expenditure of ammunition and one Kraut latrine orderly was captured. Simultaneously with the cease fire order there was a rustle in the bushes on our right flank. The guns swung to the right, the bushes were riddled. We thought nothing could survive that hail of lead. We were correct in our assumption, we had killed a cow!
After an all night march, we went into position southwest of
"We were in bivouac with CC "B". It seems that everything was "Fubar" (Fouled up beyond all recognition). Col. Fitzgerald couldn't contact our battalion by radio so Lt. Martin, the Liaison officer, was ordered to find them. It was about 0300 hours and we were bouncing down the road when we were halted by a T.D. road block and upon inquiring whether a unit of artillery was ahead of us we were "politely" infomed that nothing was ahead of us but Krauts.
Well, Lt. Martin, in following orders, decided to go straight ahead. A prearranged signal was made with the road block since they had informed us that they were going to shoot anything that came down the road.
We proceeded up the road about 1000 yards when I nudged Lt. Martin and asked him if he saw a large bush on the right side of the road. He said, "Yes". I said, "That ain't no bush, that's a camouflaged vehicle. Let's get the hell out of here." Was I scared?
"Lt. Martin said, "We'll just go up the road a little farther, we'll be sure to find the battalion." Well, we ran up into a little town, not a French flag flying, not a soul stirring. It didn't smell Kosher to me. Still following instructions, Lt. Martin decided to give another try up the road. So here we go again. By this time I could feel something sticky in the rear of my trousers. It was at 0430 that we decided that if after a few more miles we still did not locate the battalion we would head for home. We had gone up the road about four or five miles and as we approached a right bend we noticed a group of soldiers in the road. As we neared them an officer stood in the center of the road and with arm outstretched, shouted "Heil Hitler" -- Give her the gas and let's Partee out of here."
"We dashed into Le Mans, hoping to find a place to turn around. There were groups of soldiers on the sidewalks. We drove under one underpass. While I was looking for some friendly sign, thinking possibly I could hide with some Frenchman until this town was liberated, we went under another underpass. Having been hit by a bomb, the railroad station was ablaze - it lit up the whole area and there we were, like ducks on a pond. We backed the peep up, turned around and headed out. As we screeched around that left turn where we were first challenged by that "Heil Hitler", all hell broke loose even to the swoozing sound of A.T. fire. We fired our trusty weapons but after several shots they all jammed. What a night, doesn't the army know I'm an "Old Man"? Well, our hectic ride finally ended in CCB's bivuoac area with one tire shot out from under us, they had riddled it with holes." (Sgt. Wisnower, Hq Btry)
Fire Mission 2
GERMAN 7TH ARMY ELIMINATED AT FALAISE
Returning from a unit commander's meeting, Col Washburn announced our next objective was to block all roads north and east of Sees. Our thrust northward would put us in position to cooperate with the British and Canadian drive south from
"As usual it was the back roads we traveled. Dusty? You never saw such dust in your life. Visibility was so poor that it was like putting your head in a barracks bag and tightening the strings.
Every so often the column would halt. When this happened our biggest worry was sweating out the roaring track behind us. On one such occasion, it happened -- Bang! -- to "C" Battery's third section. It seemed as if all the 88's in
(Sgt B.L.Smith, "C" Btry)
Lady Luck evidently smiled on us as we passed through numerous villages that offered a great selection of roads. By following the clouds of dust we hung together. Night driving is a great strain, especially on the drivers. The only friendly territory we controlled was the width of the road and the length of our column.
"About this time the Air Section spent several days trying to catch up with the fast moving armored columns, because the cubs could not fly at night. At
Often we were left in the middle of enemy forces that had been bypassed by the forward elements. At one time nineteen German enlisted men and one officer were captured in a house adjoining the field." (Lt. Nicol, Liaison Pilot)
The morning of August 10th found us in position and ready to support the leading elements, who had encountered an enemy task force. Lt. Hentschell established a unique Observation Post in a steel tower of a high tension line. He was eyed by many a trigger happy sniper hunter. Our only fire mission there was marking a target with colored smoke for our fighter-bombers, who eliminated the cause of the trouble. Once again we moved out.
The B. C. parties led by Col Washburn proceeded the main body of the battalion in search of new positions. Our Battalion Commander always fought the battalion aggressively and proved this by leading the party into Sees with the advanced reconnaissance elements of the French 2nd Armored Division. Here we were greeted with an enthusiastic welcome from the French civilians, who showed their appreciation by gifts of beaucoup wine and roast beef sandwiches, which had been prepared for the German's dinner. Returning through the town later, we passed the colorful Sengalese tankers and infantry mounted on American equipment.
On Saturday, August 12th, we went into position, and with Lt. Martin observing, flushed six Nazi half-tracks into friendly road blocks. Here we received our first counter-battery fire. When the next morning's fog lifted the first incoming round crashed very near to "A" battery's position and created no end of confusion. Our positions were in a picturesque valley almost surrounded by a high ridge that afforded excellent observation for the enemy. No one had dug in and the dirt began to fly when that stuff started singing in.
Orders to displace to alternate positions were given, and the battalion became a confused mass of people feverishly tearing down camouflage nets and loading vehicles. The shells kept pouring into "A" and "B" batteries' areas and were bursting in the trees along our route of departure. One shell selected the rear door of Able's kitchen truck for a landing place and almost immediately the chow wagon was an inferno. No efforts were made toward extinguishing the flames because the truck was carrying several GI cans filled with hand grenades and they created a terrific hazard. Baker battery began laying a smoke screen along the ridge and under its protection we "got the hell out of there." While directing "B" battery's displacement Lt. Davies was seriously wounded by the flying shrapnel. Also wounded were Pvt Amos of "B" Battery and S/Sgt Holland and Pfc. Peterson of "A" Battery.
Reorganizing at a new position, we placed observed and interdiction fires on the enemy along the ridge. An anonymous Frenchman, a key man in the underground, was extremely helpful in pin-pointing targets for us and determining results of our fires. He, or his men, would pass openly through the German positions and report their locations to us. We fired a great deal, and great damage and many casualties were inflicted on the enemy.
At Gace on August 12th the cubs found excellent hunting and were in the air continuously, coming down for gas and going right up again. late that day, the enemy infiltrated the woods next to the field used by the cubs and Lt. Nicol and Lt. Sorensen took off, passing directly over the woods at about 100 feet. Heavy machine gun and rifle fire broke loose all around them. Violently maneuvering, they got past the woods and over friendly territory and continued on with their mission. On landing an hour later, a number of holes were found in the ship but none did any damage. Lt Sorensen's remark tersely revealed our reaction: "Who said you couldn't hide behind a microphone?"
"August 13-Sunday, Hunting was good this afternoon - Hell' ava-lota Boche headed for
"August 14th - We kept the bastards running all over the place. Praise the Lord - Mail!!!" (S-3 Record of Events)
That day we suffered our first fatality with the death of Sgt. "Mike" Dickey, forward observer sergeant of Headquarters Battery. His sudden death from a mortar shell was a shock to everyone. We lost a good soldier and a fine friend. This brought a personal feeling of hatred for the Nazis and War.
In forming the Falaise pocket, we created military history. It was the first time a complete armored division was used to exploit behind enemy lines.
On August 15th we were relieved, and we do mean relieved, by the 90th Infantry Division.
5TH ARMORED BATTLES GERMANS ALONG SEINE
On August 16th, after a 74 mile black-out march, we went into position south of Dreux. This eastward march was giving basis to our hope of being the liberators of
"Under these conditions Service Battery never was a complete unit, since supplying and maintaining a completely mechanized battalion of 105's required the service battery to be always on the road. We always seemed in hot water. Either the fuel trucks would be on their way back when a rumor would start to the effect a town they were to pass through had been retaken by the Germans; or the wrecker crew, which had dropped out of column to pick up a disabled vehicle, had failed to return. nobody knew there they were or what had happened, and then upon their return we'd hear that, getting lost, they had passed through and liberated several small towns not yet entered by any of our troops." (Sgt. Conrad, Service Btry)
"We were sent back to locate and guide Service Battery to our positions so the battery could take on gas and rations to continue our drive through the night. When we were about five miles from the battalion and driving on a narrow dirt road, a vehicle approached us from the opposite direction. Thinking it was Service Battery we pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and waited. When the truck came alongside, we found it to be a Volkswagen, loaded with German soldiers. We were so surprised that not a shot was fired. Not knowing if anything was following them, we pulled up and parked in a woods just to our right. Five minutes later a column moved down the road towards us. We sweated the moments until we recognized the lead vehicle as belonging to Service Battery." (Robert Fitzpatrick and Bert Johnson, "C" Btry)
At 2200 hours that evening Dreux's German garrison of five hundred troops surrendered to the Combat Command. This was the first large mass surrender to the division. As a rule the enemy, when in the mood to surrender, thought it advisable to hide from the armor and give up to units following us. In this instance the Germans surrendered to the 75th Arm'd Med. Bn.
"On August 17th, we had the pleasure of seeing our first ME 109 shot down by the 387th AAA Bn. The plane came in very low making one pass overhead without firing a shot, turned and started back. Before he could fire a single round he came right over an AA half- track, which let go with all it had. The plane burst into pieces in midair, crashed to the ground, and burned." (Sgt. Conrad, Service Btry)
Thursday was one of those days when so much happened that it is hard to get it all straight now. We occupied at least five positions that day and moved a good many miles to boot. We were in each position only long enough to get the guns laid, a registration made, and a couple of targets of opportunity fired upon. In the afternoon we moved north and the cubs reported all roads full of vehicles carrying doughboys from our supporting divisions. Several towns were passed through and beaucoup prisoners were being held in each one. That move was a classic example of what happens when an armored division breaks loose behind German lines. There was no organized resistance at all. We moved until we caught the fleeing enemy, shot until they were out of range and then took after them again. When we reached the main east-west highway from
"Upon arrival at this position Col. Washburn needed to know the name of a small town about a mile away. He designated us to find out what it was because we were in the first peep behind his half track. We breezed into the town hoping to "liberate" some wine or other potables while we were there. Suddenly we noticed a German soldier approaching us on a bicycle. He saw us about that same time so he piled off of his bicycle, trying to bring his machine pistol into play. We covered him with our carbines, made him put his gun in the back of the peep, and then climb up on the hood with his hands on his head. Looking around us we saw two enemy vehicles in a side street--it was time for us to leave! Waste time turning around? Hell no, we parteed full steam to the rear. Guess the Heinies decided to leave too, because when we looked back so many vehicles were leaving, the town looked like a stirred up ant's nest." (James D. Hardesty and Sam Cooper, "C" Btry)
While in this position near
This movement found us in position on the south bank of the river, some thirty miles west of
resistance as we blocked those roads. German armor counter-attacked. We breathed a sigh of relief when, at 3000 yards, one attack was beaten off after the destruction of several of the attacking tanks.The same night we were very busy as we made life miserable for a reported 3000 German infantry and the crews of the 104 tanks of the 12 SS (Hitler Jugend) Panzer Division. Interdictions and "serenade" fires kept us at the guns throughout the nights, and preparations for the attack and defensive fires denied us any opportunity to rest in daytime. This warfare of constant movement was starting to show on us physically. Days and dates lost their identity, and nights were meaningless as far as rest was concerned. Washing our teeth was as far as we went toward cleaning up; shaving was considered a waste of precious drinking water. Again the German air force entered into the fighting:
"Charley Battery was leading the column. We were in close support of the tankers and doughs and were in a hurry to get into position. The guns were laid when the Jerries hit us. Some of the boys had the mistaken impression that they were our planes, but they damn soon changed their minds. Both sides and down the middle they came - so fast and so unexpected that they caught us completely by surprise. Nobody thought much of firing at them. The first thought was to get under something and that's what we did, diving under M-7's, halftracks, and anything big enough to get under. One of the last planes to strafe dropped something, and someone yelled "BOMB!!" We thought for sure the Assistant Ex. track was a goner when the object headed directly for it. A lot of hearts started to beat again when the jettisoned gas tank hit and bounced harmlessly across the field.
"The planes left "Charley" alone after that, but they caught the rest of the battalion on the road. There, the Jerries weren't so lucky as the ack-ack was ready for them and a few planes didn't make it back to
Eight casualties in the battalion and attached ack-ack were evacuated as a result of the strafing.
"Aug. 25. The Army is very good to us. After twenty four days in the field and an all night march, we now have a forty-eight hour rest period." (S-3 Record of Events)
Who could've called that a rest period? The daylight hours were spent at much needed maintenance work and the nights were spent in firing 900 rounds in a seemingly endless downpour of rain. A few of the more fortunate ones among us did succeed in taking a bath in a stock tank. The water was very cold and our position extremely exposed to the civilian eye, but after thirty days away from any plumbing, bathing was an exciting experience.
We displaced to Mantes Gassicourt to support a crossing of the
It was planned for the division to bivuoac in
We entered the city at 1200 hours on the 30th of August and made our way through throngs of hilarious Parisians, who lined the Avenue de la Grande Armee. The joy of the people was contagious and soon affected all of us. It was a wonderful sensation and soon had each of us feeling as though he alone liberated all of
"The column had stopped and everyone was busy trying to kiss all the girls. I was on the middle seat of the halftrack, Cpl. Dean was driving and S/Sgt. Lenzner was in the turret. They were getting all the kissing and I decided to do something about it, so I climbed out on the hood of the half-track. I got kissed - an old man who hadn't shaved for weeks grabbed me and kissed me before I could get away. I had had enough and got back in the track where it was safe." (T/4 Hudson, "A" Btry)
Old ladies would hold up a quart of cognac in one hand and a shot glass in the other; the boys took the quart and left them with the shot.
The next morning, September 1st, we moved out across country and a memorable sight to most of us was going across a huge airport that had been destroyed by the fleeing Krauts - on one taxi strip the charges had not been set off and we wound in and out among the bombs that were laid on the ground with little blocks of T.N.T. wired to them. After that, many men sported vari-colored scarves made from pieces of cargo parachutes. We moved from there to the World War I battlefield in the Compiegne Forest where we waited while the 22nd Arm'd Engineers constructed a pontoon bridge across the Oise River.
That obstacle passed, the first platoon again took the lead and edged into the edge of a town called Noyon. They had just passed the first buildings when another fire started. I called Lt. Harrison, who was down there in his tank and asked him what that fire was. He said, "I don't know, but I'm afraid it's another 'Big Boy', and there is beaucoup infantry down here." Being unable to advance farther, because the knocked out M-4 blocked the road, the lead platoon pulled back and joined us in a field about 400 yards from town. It was decided to send dismounted infantry in to clear a route through. Since we only had two platoons of infantry and rumor had four companies of Germans in Noyon, the task force commander decided to make up the difference with artillery. The batteries went into position and relaying radio commands from myself to Lt. Hentschell to Lt. Fraser to
Once the batteries were hitting pretty close together I dropped the bursts to roof top level and systematically worked the town over from side and from end to end. As soon as the barrage lifted I started out with one of the infantry platoons and believe me that looked like a pitifully small group of men to be attacking a town - even after 1000 rounds of artillery had softened it up. But our orders were "Go get in a fight!" So we started out. We entered the edge of town just as it was getting light enough to see. I was carrying a hand grenade ready to sell my life dearly when we met those four companies. I guess we bluffed them though - because we entered the town only finding signs of a hurried departure of the Krauts and an enthusiastic welcome from the French."
(Lt Martin, Foward Observer)
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)
Fire Mission 3
BATTLES RAGE AS REICH IS ENTERED
Another change of direction in a secret drive of 87 miles to the southeast, behind our own lines, brought us into position near Romagne on September 4th. The next day, after moving twenty miles, the column bogged down for lack of gas. It required 25,000 gallons to refuel the combat command. Resupplied, we were attached to CCR on September 8th and advanced by bounds, reinforcing the fires of the 95th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, to a position near St. Movic. After crossing the
"Lt Nicol and I were flying reconnaissance for the point and Captain Rowlands asked us to look over a bridge at Mersch, which they had reason to believe was mined. We took a look and reported that it seemed alright from what we could see. Just about that time it went sky high and us along with it, we thought, for we could see stones and debris flying by. The plane was carrying on like a ruptured duck. I radioed back that there was no need of me telling them what had happened. My only instructions were to have a pair of clean trousers ready for me when I came down." (Lt. McWaine, Observer)
"We went into position and about half an hour later I noticed a lot of people on a road leading up the hill about 3000 yards to our right front. I took the field glasses and was surprised to find "these people" to be Krauts on the run. I told S/Sgt. Shultz, our chief of section, about it and he in turn reported it over the phone to Lt. Weems, our executive officer. Lt Weems told us to start shooting direct at them. After putting out about four rounds, we were hitting the trees right over their heads and then the rest of the battery started firing. Captain Crowell, our battery Commanding Officer, told us later that there was plenty of dead Jerries on that hill." (T/4 Frank Clayton, "B" Btry).
"I had parked my half-track on an open hillside near Mersch and was stretched out on the hood enjoying the scenery when I saw a German column entering a woods across the river. I notified Col. Washburn and with his help adjusted the battalion's fire on the area. We sure gave 'em hell." (T/5 Dale Wark, Hq Btry)
The infantry moved fast and captured a railroad bridge near the blown highway bridge and we crossed it after the engineers removed several truck loads of explosives and filled the space between the tracks with planks.
September 11th we reverted to our organic role of direct support of CC "B". We were located at
Signs of the disappearance of summer were evident with the introduction of the rainy season. Some leisure time in this position permitted us to admire the natural beauty of this small Duchy and also our first opportunity to spend some of our money at the local brewery. Here we had our second hot showers since landing in
On September 16, the combat command was given orders to move into
"As we waited to jump off, a Red Cross doughnut wagon pulled into our area. The presence of American women at a time such as this was quite amazing and I must admit a great morale builder. We sure enjoyed the coffee, doughnuts, and music. After a couple hours of this break in routine we started on our way once again. We returned to that same hill a few days later and it will always be remembered by us as "Doughnut Hill." (Cpl. Rubel, Hq Btry)
We followed the road opened by CC"R" until the call of "fire mission" came over our voice radios and we went into firing position near Hommerdingen.
"September 17th, CC"B" moved back to clean up pillboxes on the north flank, leaving a Cavalry screen to protect our exposed position. Artillery and nebelwerfer fire began falling in the C.P. area and on the road to our north. Prisoners reported that they were the advance paraty for an entire division." (lst Lt. Floyd, Bn S-2)
"The weather was good and the enemy fire was ineffective in the battalion position. Praise the Lord and pass charge 7. More fun than a barrel of monkeys. Working over every town in range with fuze delay. Started one large fire in Ingledorf. Wounded at least 30 squareheads outside of Niedersgegen. After dropping 96 rounds into Niedersgegen, infantry entered and found countless number of dead and 47 surrendered. Marvelous effect on the town. Infantry found nothing alive in the above town and burnt most of it to the ground. Lt. Hentschell, "A" Btry, and Sgt. Corniff, Hq Btry, were wounded. The Germans have no respect for the Sabbath. Received a little counter battery at 1800 from 150's and "Whistling Willies"."
(S-3 Record of Events)
On the night of the 17th rain and fog closed over the position. Most of us had given up digging fox-holes during the war of maneuver through
"Monday, September 18 - fired 936 rds yesterday. One of our forward elements is now surrounded. Lt. Martin's tank is with this unit. Who said the Germans were finished? Niedersgegen must have changed hands at least three times today. In the past half hour we threw 186 rounds in the town. Shell fire was constant. Pfc. Ward ran 200 yards under fire to administer first aid.
"We moved out late that afternoon with 6 tanks and 7 or 8 half-tracks. Our mission was to fight north through the town of Niedersgegen and extend the left flank of the division as far as possible in that direction in order to protect the crossing of a small stream just south of that town. This was a factor most vital to the division because loss of that crossing to the enemy meant that the division was cut off without a line of communications. Resistance was met almost immediately and after considerable delay a tank was maneuvered into position where it could fire at the troublesome pill-box. Several rounds of armor piercing shell silenced it so we could advance beyond it and on up a narrow road, that skirted the edge of the woods on the east side of Niedersgegen. It was beginning to get dusk so we pulled into a field and coiled for the night.
"About 100 yards from our tank we discovered a steel door built level with the ground that was evidently the back door to a bunker or pill-box which had already been passed. We were unable to get it open so we booby-trapped it with a percussion hand grenade and sighted two 75's at it, giving the gunners orders to shoot when that grenade went off.
"So we began a miserable night. It rained off and on all night long; we had to sweat out that pill-box so close to us. Our artillery started one of those seemingly endless duels with Jerry's artillery.
"September 17th? I remember a night spent 'one on, four off'. That means one hour of standing in the turret in the rain afraid to move for fear of making noise, looking constantly in your zone of observation, continually sweating out some Kraut appearing from behind that row of trees or a Jerry column coming down that road and then, four hours off lying under the back of the tank worrying about hundreds of things and probably most of all that next hour of guard. A large numnber of gray hairs I know will show up on my head prematurely I will blame on that 150 mm gun that dropped one within 200 yards of us every few minutes.
"Morning of the 18th came and the situation looked good -- we hadn't been counter attacked the night before and in spite of the fact that those rounds had landed so close to us we didn't have any casualties. But the bubble soon burst and not quietly either. One tank and one half-track started back toward the main body of our troops to pick up some engineers and escort them back to where we were so they could blow up a couple of pill-boxes we had by-passed. Those two vehicles had not gone more than 200 yards from our night perimeter when the tank hit a mine that had been planted in that road since we had come up in the evening before. Were we scared? No, we were too damn busy to be scared then. Our platoon of infantry tied into those Krauts behind us in one of the fiercest fire fights I have ever seen. All the action was too close to us to use artillery so my crew and I spent our time helping men who had been wounded. It took a while, but before too long we began to realize the seriousness of our situation. We were cut off! An overwhelming force of the enemy, astride the only road we had, was between us and the nearest friendly troops.
"Capt Krafts, the infantry commander, then took the infantry platoon and deployed them near the road to screen the withdrawal of the vehicles. Most of them moved safely past the German force and on over a very steep hill down to the road south of town. We started to breathe a big sigh of relief, but it was premature. When our infantry prepared to withdraw they discovered that they couldn't move, because of the intense enemy fire. The remaining three tanks, ours included, edged down over the hill and started putting down an intense barrage of fire with machine guns and 75 mm guns, while the infantry men who weren't killed or wounded pulled back. In laying down this fire at maximum rate Cpl. Weeks, our gunner, would fire a round of high explosive into a window of the house most of the enemy fire was coming from and then follow it with a long burst of machine gun fire. When several armor piercing shells bounced harmlessly off of one house and white phosphorus could not set the straw roof on fire we decided that it must be a camouflaged pill-box. One time Weeks took his foot off of the machine gun trigger, but the gun didn't cease firing, so he hollered over at Pfc. Essary, loader, "Hey, quit shooting that gun." Essary came back with, "That ain't me, this gun's so hot it's shooting itself." Here Sgt. McGlamery cut loose with his seldom fired bow machine gun and succeeded in silencing some vicious fire coming from a hedgerow in front of us.
"Before we could leave our exposed position there we had to provide more covering fire while several men from the 15th Arm'd Infantry risked their lives rescuing one of the wounded men. When they had him on a litter on the peep they found it impossible to move because of the deep mud. I gave Tec 5th Sammy Smith instructions over the interphone and he expertly maneuvered our heavy tank through the slippery mud until we were backed up to the stuck peep. I jumped out and attached a tow cable to it and we slowly moved out to the comparative safety of other friendly elements."(Lt. Martin, Forward Observer)
"Our cub was unable to function because of the weather but five observers were out with the various elements we supported. There was no shortage of targets. Enemy troop and vehicle concentrations were observed on all sides and this battalion was laid in four different directions at the same time. We fired more than 1500 rounds during the day, inflicting terrific personnel loss on the enemy, but our positions were very vulnerable, enemy artillery continued to fall on all elements." (lst Lt. Spencer Floyd, Bn S-2)
"Running all through
A German radio message, ordering an attack on Biesdorf - to our rear - at 0900 hours on September 19th, was intercepted shortly before that time. Enemy activity in the woods to our southeast was increased considerably also. The cavalry outposts reported armored vehicles had moved in during the night.
"Our battalion ammunition supply was beginning to get low during the afternoon. The approaches to Biesdorf were under enemy fire preventing the Service Battery ammunition trains from reaching us, though several attempts were made to get through. Further, it was obvious that we would have to direct our fire power to perimeter defense if we were to remain in this area." (1st Lt. Floyd Bn S-2)
"Ammunition was getting low in the battery and the ammunition section, in charge of Sgt. Van Caeseele, was sent back to Service Battery to replenish our supply. Service battery was in the rear and we thought going there was more or less a pleasant reprieve from the constant shelling that the battery was under. This time, however, we changed our mind, and fast too. We didn't know at the time that the rear area had been re-occupied by the Germans during the night, and the town of
Sgt. Van Caeseele decided to go through the town and asked for volunteers to go with him. We split up the section and four of us took one half-track and started. The volunteers were Sgt. Van Caeseele, Cpl. McClain, driver, Pvt. Turner and Tec 5th
The Germans had knocked out a lot of our trucks in the vicinity of the town and soon we found that the roads were impassible and we had to abandon the idea and the half-track too. We made it to a ditch and helped some doughboys put out mortar fire which helped to quiet things down till we could get our vehicles again and move them out of there. Fortunately no one was hurt very badly although Van received a slight wound on the cheek from a ricochet. Five hours from the time we left the battery we reached Service Battery only to find it under the same kind of treatment. Several of their men had been killed.
The Ammunition officer decided to take the ammunition to the batteries and that meant we would follow him back but not long after starting we ran into the same trouble. It wasn't until we came upon Major Smith that we were assured of our destination. He was headed out of
"At 0900 Captain Stewart received a message on the radio that the batteries needed ammunition immediately. Here goes the ammunition platoon again. We left at about 0930, down the hill towards Niedersgegen, crossing the creek near the water point. Farther down the road towards Biesdorf, we had to stop behind a column of peeps.
We asked one of the officers of the 28th Infantry Division what the holdup was. He said, "My Company is held up by snipers and mortar fire up ahead." It was still foggy. Soon the fog lifted and holy hell broke loose from all directions. The Krauts entertained us with artillery time fire and mortar shells; pieces of shrapnel were coming down like hail, too darn close for comfort. Cpl. Johnson's truck was hit by shrapnel, it made a dozen holes through the hood and radiator. The shells kept bursting at a rate of 25 a minute.
Knowing that it was impossible to get through we turned the trucks around and went back to our bivouac on hill 375. At about 1500 hours, we received another radio message telling us to get through by all means and deliver the ammunition. Every one in the platoon knew that it would be a tough mission. The trucks took off down the road. The further we went the more artillery the Krauts seemed to fire. Just before entering the town of
"In the next truck were Pvt. Whipple, driving and Sgt. Florio, manning the 50 cal. machine gun. At the intersection Sgt. Florio got killed. He fell on Whipple, making it necessary for him to drive with one foot on the running board. Each truck got about the same amount of fire. Fortunately no others were wounded, only scared. our 50 and 30 cal. machine guns were continuously barking back at the Krauts. The radio was shot out and we had no other means of communication. Lt. Fraser, attempting to reach the battalion, ran the gauntlet to where we were. His radio was in working order so the following message was sent to Major Smith, Bn Executive Officer. "I have the mad Frenchman here with a load of goodies and its impossible for him to get through, over." We were ordered back to Hill 375, because the battalion had been ordered to displace to the rear. On our way back we were continuously harrassed by enemy artillery. We had to go across a creek, up the hill across the field to get back on the road bypassing Niedersgegen.
When we arrived on top of the hill, we had to pass a burning truck loaded with small arms and mortar ammunition. The shells and cartridges were exploding in all directions. Arriving near our bivouac area, we noticed that CC"B"s service units had moved out after being shelled. No one was left around that area except CC"B" on the other side of the hill. We knew that there was only one way out and that was the bridge at Wallendorf. The Krauts kept interdiction fire along the road and bridge. We gritted out teeth, ducked our heads and made a dash for it. When we saw our "Voyage Service" sign we breathed a big sigh of relief for ourselves and hoped that the rest of the battalion could be as successful as we were in getting out." (Ammunition Platoon, Sv Btry)
"Mr. House, here's your peep. I told you I would bring it back full of bullet holes." (Lt. Beaupre, Sv Btry)
"Shooting in four directions is something not taught in the Field Artillery School but we sure learned fast during a universal shoot in Wallendorf. After a day and one half of ducking nebelwerfers and other unasked-for incoming express, my greatest fox hole experience came on 19 September 1944. As Baker Battery computor
I was on duty taking all missions for said battery. Many missions had been fired by the cracker jack Fire Direction Team but when this mission, which proved to be the final mission for the 71st east of the Our River during that memorable period, was called for, I used all the tricks as far as computing is concerned. "Firing for effect" brought double results - one result for the enemy and one for us. Baker battery fired battery one round and the enemy retaliated with battery one round which had a good effect, though I would not give them credit for a target. They sure scared hell out of everyone around the C.P.. I was computing from our "community" fox hole, when the "incoming mail" landed. I was giving the fire commands over the phone and the next thing I knew I was separated from my computor"s pad and telephone but still had the receiver and slip stick in my hand. This separation occurred when Tec 5th Karlovsky jumped in the fox hole and took me and my belongings with him. This was followed by another visitor, T/Sgt. Hauenschild, and finally Capt. Roueche.
At this time the Radio operator announced "100 over" and, depending on my memory, my command was "down 5 - Fire".
Battery one round was repeated and evidently our fire was effective because there were no answering rounds." (S/Sgt. Ceruti, Hq Btry)
"...before long we were firing charge one. That was close and the Germans weren't falling back. It was different from France. The shells were hitting all around us. Right in back of us the 75th Medics had set up a field hospital - a few shells fell on them - I don't know if anyone was hurt but they moved out quick.
"That afternoon we were so low on ammunition we couldn't do anything but save it for direct firing, and just sat around. I saw four friendly gas and ammunition trucks knocked out in the little town near us. We received the order to move back after some of the 85th Reconnaissance came back and told us that we'd better get out if we had the gas. We started out the way we came in. I was in the last vehicle, and I saw all the vehicles in front of us pulling off the road. One of the fellows came back and told us that the lead track was knocked out by direct fire as it topped a hill, and we were to pull off the road and wait.
The Germans had retaken the town. Then came Purple Heart Hill. I had been watching it for three days and everytime a vehicle went over it the Germans shelled them, but we had to go out that way if we got out at all, so up we went. It wouldn't have been so bad, but just as we got to the top, we received orders to pull off the road and let the 95th Arm'd Field Artillery Battalion pass us. When we got off the road, they let us have it. I guess the hill was zeroed in. Everyone left the vehicles and scattered. There was no place to go, and no time to dig fox holes. While we were there, ten men were wounded and one killed. I wasn't afraid until that happened, but after I saw this fellow get it, I was. After that everytime I heard an 88 my blood froze and I got weak in the knees. It all happened so quick. I was looking for the motor sergeant and I saw five or six guys by one of the M-7's. They were laughing and talking; I found out later it was S/Sgt Demblow's birthday and they were talking about what a hot celebration he was getting. I heard the shell coming and hit the dirt. When I got up everyone who was around the M-7 was leaving except one who was lying on the ground. I went up to him and saw who he was and that he was dead. He didn't even unfold and he still had a smile on his face, it was that quick." (T/4 Hudson, "A" Btry)
"As the column moved out a call came from "A" battery for the ambulance. They said they had a man who was wounded and was down the road. The ambulance with Tec 4th Robinson, Tech 5th Johnson and myself met a vehicle from "A" battery and asked the driver where we could find Chambers, the wounded man. He said, "Just go right down the road." We moved on and suddenly came in sight of a German aid man and a peep sitting in the middle of the road. It was on the edge of a village. We stopped a minute and saw Chambers wave to us.
When we reached the spot where he was lying on the side of the road, we saw the German aid man bandaging his wounded leg. With the help of the Wehrmacht aid man we put him in the ambulance and he said to the German, "Old man, you did a good job." Then he shook hands with him and the German shook hands with each of us. On the way back I treated two other wounds that the German had not had time to treat." (T/3 Entz, Med Det)
"At the time the ambulance left, our 3/4 ton truck moved off the road into a draw with Headquarters Battery. While the column was stopped, several men received wounds and came to us for treatment.
Capt Bickel, S/Sgt. Kinsaul, T/5 Shaw, T/5 Capps, and Pfc. Stump were kept busy giving first aid to casualties. Enemy shells continued to burst in the area. Finally one shell hit a tree directly above us, resulting in several casualties. Among those wounded was Capt. Bickel, who, nevertheless, continued his work.
It was here that S/Sgt. Kinsaul disappeared. After searching diligently for him, we were forced to move on without him. Later we found that he had been wounded and Pfc. Sanders of "A" Btry had found him and put him in another ambulance." (T/4 Robinson, Med Det)
In those days, our Medical Detachment won our greatest admiration and respect. Their devotion regardless of personal risk was heroic and outstanding.
We withdrew across the Our River late that night, regrouped and went into position to cover CC"B" with our fire power. Our supply line was open now, and Service Battery's trucks emptied one ammunition dump to give us the material for the revenge we sought. It was honestly a pleasure to hear our guns firing again. The entire battalion had withdrawn with the exception of liaison and forward observers, who were still with the tank and infantry units. Lt. Fraser and Sgt. Wisnower were towed in with two tires and the motor shot our of their jeep. CC"B" was still cut off, but was confident of its ability to fight its way back. Our air support had been very noticeably missing those other days, one flight having been over for a few minutes the previous day, but the afternoon of the 20th they put on a show that won them our highest praise. Rumor's story is that the air liaison officer had gotten for us a flight that was returning to base fully loaded; they had been unable to locate their original target. Soon twenty eight P-47's and thirty two P-38's were circling above us. Our FO's marked choice targets for them with colored smoke and they dove to the attack. We were amazed to see them dive four abreast strafing a woods. There were so many planes Lt. Nicol, our cub pilot, remarked that there was just no place left for him to fly. Jerry had had no air power to contend with, and he was out in the open, vulnerable as hell. After that afternoon's work, our fighter-bombers were always known lovingly as "Angels".
Some supplies were still urgently needed by CC"B", and our men there were still in great danger.
"I hadn't realized how tough a spot we were still in; I knew though that we were needing some medical supplies. Our cub planes, with Lt. Francies in one and Lt. Nicol flying the other, landed in our area and began unloading boxes. As soon as they'd come in, Jerry started plastering the place with artillery. I was silently cussing them out for landing there and drawing fire on us. I asked Capt. Wilcox why the hell they didn't use the ambulance to haul those supplies in. He told me we were cut off again. Those flying crates wrapped around washing machine motors were our only "in" and "out". It was about dark when they were unloaded, and one plane almost crashed into a tank when taking off.
"That was the only time I ever dug a fox hole for someone else. I figured my best bet in getting out was to keep Capt. Wilcox going, he was so busy with fire missions he couldn't be bothered - so I started two holes. I'd dig in one for awhile and then jump in the other." (Pfc. Griffith, Hq Btry)
We fired 2000 rounds in twenty four hours the last day CC"B" was in there. The FO's didn't have to look for targets, they just picked out the best ones. We hit the Kraut hard for what he'd given us. We'd never been on the short end of any score sheet, and that day was nearly all profit. Kraut prisoners were coming in with reports of 50% casualties in their outfits from our artillery fire and we had set lots of their equipment ablaze.
It was reported that some tanks crossed the river towards us, so we established an outpost of one tank and some men with bazookas on our flank. They were to report the approach of unfriendly elements. Some fire fell on this listening post. Pfc. Stinger was evacuated with a leg wound and Sgt. McNair was hit in the back with shrapnel but fortunately was not seriously hurt. As a result of his wound Mac had to eat his meals standing up.
Wallendorf was the first time we had ever faced overwhelming odds. We had pulled back now to lick our wounds. Our mission was accomplished, and we had the satisfaction of knowing we had inflicted extremely heavy casualties upon the enemy. Although we had twenty-one casualties with Sgt. Florio, T/4 Nicholson, Cpl. Luker, T/5 Romires and Pvt. Barbera killed, we, a military unit, were very fortunate in not having suffered a greater loss. But as individuals our hearts were shrouded with grief for our fallen friends.
Fire Mission 4
FRONT STABILIZES AS WINTER COMES
The battalion moved farther back into Luxembourg, but we maintained OP's overlooking the Our River. Captain Crowell and the B.C. section of "B" Battery were driven from their Observation Post by small arms fire from a German patrol. Maintenance of vehicles, firing upon targets of opportunity, and interdiction fires occupied most of our time. Compared to the ordeal of Wallendorf, this was a rest period. The nearby town of Diekirch provided us with bathing facilities and good beer. Lt.Stroup, feeling the urge to relieve himself one night, wandered into the quarry where the C.P. was located. Coming through all our previous battles without a scratch, he made the mistake of not wearing his helmet on this mission. Many stitches were required to close the gash a falling rock made in his head.
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 Faymonville, Belgium. Due to the fact we were in reserve and in a non-firing position we had the chance to relax and play some touch football and volleyball. The SSO set up movies in the woods; we listened to the World Series ball games and Axis Sally programs.
For the first time since leaving England, we were issued "B" rations and our kitchens were again putting out hot meals. Hot-cakes, which were despised in England, were now a delicacy, and Spam tasted as good as steak.
October 15th, a cold rainy sunday, we moved into position 8000 yards southwest of Aachen. Here the combat command was held as a mobile reserve.
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 Germany for the second time! It was a strange feeling, everyone was thinking the same thought, "Will we stay in this time or will the Germans succeed in evicting us again?" The battle of Aachen was raging. We heard the big guns now, the 240's, the 8 inchers, and the 155's, and we saw the great amount of equipment and men around us. That "all alone - Wallendorf" feeling was leaving us fast. It was dark now, the rain was still falling, as if with a vengeance. The ground was so soft, that it looked for a time like we would not make the battery positions. After much churning of mud, and a terrific amount of cussing, the battery literally slid into position and was laid and ready to fire. The rumors were flying around, as thick as the downpour of water on us, that the Germans were counter-attacking fanatically and often. Despite the seemingly impossible visibility, planes were buzzing overhead, enemy planes! It was cold! Our feet were long since soaking wet from plodding in the mud. We were hungry, cold, and out-right miserable. There was no sleeping, simply because there was no place to sleep. If only day would come!
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 Florida, where it will never get cold!" (Cpl. Persikini, "A" Btry)
Headquarters Battery was located several days later in near-by houses in Oberforstbach, but the gun batteries of necessity remained in the field.
We were no longer needed in that area after Aachen's fall and on October 30th moved about thirty miles south to a quiet sector of the line. Headquarters Battery ranked Service Battery out of Reichenst- ein Castle, part of which was reportedly built in Charlemagne's time. The entire building was of old arrangement and construction, but had been modernized sufficiently to cause field troops to marvel at this good fortune. There was a conveniently large kitchen, a bath-tub, a water heating system, and in every room a small stove.
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 our stove. 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 very 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 Roetgen, Germany. The cold, miserable raining weather matched our mood and surroundings. It was getting dark when we pulled into our 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!
We moved to an assembly area southeast of Aachen. Our stay there was a brief two days, but it is notable as the first time that all the battalion was billeted in houses. On December 10th we moved with CC"B" into the battle of Hurtgen Forest.
Orders had been received by the Division to capture a vital sector. This, as everyone knew, would be a very difficult task, but it had to be done in order to clean out one of the few remaining pockets on the west side of the Roer River. Everything was in readiness and the Division prepared to move into position.
It was one of those dreary, cold days with low hanging clouds and stinging wind that cut to the bone. Anyone who experienced even one fraction of the struggle in this particular area is very much familiar with the abominable weather as well as the almost impassable terrain.
"Somebody slipped up that day, or else the weather man didn't know or care that we were coming in. Snow ... snow .. and more snow, as far as the eye could see, spotted with those telltale patches of piled up brown earth that mark the spot where one of Fritz's 88's had landed, the wreckage of buildings, where some of our shells had found their targets. Damn, it was cold that day! All the boys were more than glad to make camp and get those fires started, not that they were cold, tired, wet, and hungry ... anything but that. After all, think of all the lifegiving heat and nourishment that there is in a "K" ration, eaten on the move, you think of it, I have more pleasant things to think about. Finally, after a little more than the usual share of bitching and shuffling around, we got into position, and started to make ourselves as comfortable as possible.
A bunch of doughboys had been bivouaced there before us, articles of clothing and equipment attested to that ... also a few of the doughs themselves were in the next field, but they were past caring what went on about them. Our own details buried them the next day. Our predecessors had made things easier for us though, some real fancy foxholes and dugouts with heavy log and dirt roofs were ready for new tenants. I guess those guys must have been in a hurry, not one hole was long or deep enough for us, so off came the tops and we put on our own additions. Namely: stoves made from 5 gallon oil cans, complete with Boche stovepipe, and illumination in the form of flashlights or half-track trouble lights rigged up with lengths of wire. We fired on targets of opportunity and aid down heavy barrages in preparation for the attacks. For the boys that were off duty during the day, there was the usual army time passers, poker, and blackjack games, just laying around and chewing the fat, or snatching a little of those "40" winks missed the night before, while on that firing problem." (T/5 Burrell, 'A" Btry)
"I was working with a Forward Observation Crew in an M-4 tank and got a pretty damn good view of everything that happened during the days to follow. We left the Battery and pulled into position with "A" company of the 81st Tank Battalion, and received instructions for the attack that started at 0700 the next morning. To make our night a little more uncomfortable we blindly chose a position near three dead frozen Krauts sitting upright in a ditch. It was obvious that they had been put out of commission by a tree burst from an artillery shell. This proved to be a common occurrence throughout the whole forest. Everywhere one would look, splintered trees could be seen. I imagine our tremendous artillery concentrations accounted for most of the damage.
"After a trying, sleepless night, dawn came with the roaring of tankers warming their engines in preparation for the attack. Doughs of the 15th Arm'd Infantry Battalion started slogging down the muddy frozen road to the jumping off point. Most of them wore only field jackets, due to the quantity of equipment and arms that had to be carried. The tanks pulled out on the road in single file moving forward at a very slow rate of speed. The road was under enemy observation and was plastered repeatedly by artillery and mortar fire. Despite this and innumerable other hardships the attack pressed steadily forward.
"It seemed as if hours became days as we tried to reach our line of departure. When we left the main road and started cross-country, one tank was knocked out by an unlucky hit from a Kraut mortar. The going became rougher with every yard of moving. Tankers had to fight the mud and sweat out artillery and direct fire from anti-tank guns.
"We finally reached the top of a mountain near our line of departure and had to hold up. The Krauts were looking down our throat from a still higher mountain. We tried to press forward down the steep hill but this was useless due to the mine fields. Several of our tanks lost tracks due to the mines. It was decided that it was best to sit tight and wait for the units on our left to advance. The tanks took up a defensive position and the doughs dug in for a stay that seemed almost eternity.
"Our tank commander, Lt. McWain, radioed back to the Battalion for defensive fires. Most of the fire commands had to be relayed through our Liaison Officer, Capt. Rowlands, because of very bad reception. We remained in this position for, I believe, three days and nights. During which time the only hot food we had was coffee prepared at great risk by lighting a gasoline stove on the floor near piles of ammunition; the only sleep we got was acquired dozing while sitting in our cramped positions with no room to stretch or turn. To answer the calls of nature we crawled out and stuck our fannies over the edge of the tank praying always that a mortar shell didn't arrive to drive us from our sojourn.
"Lt. Paul McWain, Forward Observer, Sgt. Walter F. Bullard, gunner, Cpl. Roland R. Loveless, loader, Cecil "Red" Martin, assistant driver and myself, driver, comprised the crew.
"During our stay here men were killed like flies, and mortar shells were falling at such an unbelievable rate of speed and accuracy that it was practically impossible for anyone to withstand the ordeal. Reinforcements poured in steadily but they could not keep up with the terrific losses." (T/5 Hopkins, Hq Btry)
"It was during this action that the German prisoners began to feel the "hate" that the men of the 5th Arm'd held for them. The more they resisted, the harder we fought and in the end, they found it more profitable to surrender. Those who were captured, were "double timed" to the rear. The weather had a lot to do with our feelings. The cold and snow made us hate everything, so we just acted accordingly. I guess it will be a good many years before any of us forget the days we spent in Hurtgen Forest." (Sgt. Haley, "B" Btry)
Hurtgen had been a typical pine forest. Terrific artillery concentrations had downed many trees, while shrapnel had nearly cut through the soft wood trunks of others and made them a dangerous hazard. Weight of new snow and the play of the winds would bring these crashing down. One night one of these tree tops fell on headquarters battery's kitchen truck, breaking T/4 Robert Jernigan's leg and pinning him down till daylight. The medics made him as comfortable as they could and deadened the pain, but it was impossible to cut away the tree in the dark without further endangering him.
On December 17th, another Sunday, news broadcasts informed us of a German counter-offensive in the Ardennes. Its unbelievable strength, announced at fifteen or more divisions, amazed us. We thought we were fighting the whole German army. The next day the reportedly destroyed German air force put on a 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, S Btry)
The day before Christmas we received orders to displace to the vicinity of Eupen, Belgium, and with a sigh of relief "march ordered". We wound out of the forest and off the hills of Hurtgen on a bitterly cold, clear morning and the past-time of the trip was watching the fleets of bombers leaving vapor trails in the blue skies as they headed for Bastogne and other vital centers.
"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.
Fire Mission 5
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 Ardennes was becoming less, and consequently we relaxed and began to make ourselves at home as all soldiers will. We bought, borrowed, or bartered for cognac. A bottle of watered cognac cost seven hundred francs or twenty packs of cigarettes. The battalion requisitioned a beer hall, known as "Voyage Rest Center," and we also patronized some of the civilian bistros. We were all shocked at the European custom of men and women using the same rest room simultaneously.
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 Belgium houses.
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 Lammersdorf, Germany, into the most luxurious field quarters we were to find in our 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 Belgium for another break of four inactive days, after which we moved to an area near Heerlen, Holland. This was the sixth country we visited since leaving the States. Rain caused the snow to disappear and the next few days were spent in brushing the white-wash from our equipment. We were billeted in houses along the main route from Antwerp, which was crowded with high-balling supply convoys. The build-up for the Roer crossing was on, and we marveled at the amount and variety of equipment to be employed. Rumors going the rounds of the batteries at the time stated once a break-through was made after crossing the Roer, there would be no stopping for the Rhine. All the munitions and materials needed for the job would be close at hand.
Holland's many modern, fine homes, clean towns, and blonde women attracted our appreciation for natural beauty. Our short, pleasant stay was ended with a movement to Puffendorf, a village on the Cologne Plain. We took several unusual precautions in preparing our positions and billeting the men. The gun positions were the most exposed ones we had had so far, and German-held territory could be easily observed. "My gun position would make a goddamn good O.P." (Capt.Smithers, "A" Btry.)
Due to the possible enemy observation, the personnel at the gun positions was held to a minimum. Just the gun crews and executive sections remained there. The rest of the battery personnel such as the kitchens, administration, supply, ammunition and maintenance sections were kept well in the rear. During the day even part of the gun crews were sent to the rear; our camouflage must have been good for we never received any serious threat from the enemy. To those of us living in the positions it was not very pleasant. Every man had a pup tent, but under the tent was a deep fox hole, which was continually damp. Everything was dug in for protection against possible enemy counter-battery fire. The only objects that you could see above ground were one camouflaged half track and six M-7's, plus the small tents. At mealtime the men loaded into trucks and were brought to the rear area where hot chow was served.
Incidentally, the chow here was very goodl. At night one gun from the battalion would be put into an alternate position and fire interdiction all night. This was done in order to avoid revelation of our established position. While we were here the battalion's last two battlefield commissions were granted to 1st Sgt. Rex R. Case and S/Sgt. Jack Stine.
Every town from the border to the Roer was nothing but heaps of rubble, therefore considerable work and improvising were necessary in order to make quarters liveable. If we were fortunate, two rooms might be found intact out of an entire building. Able Battery's R section was forced to use a shell hole in a building for the
entrance to their quarters.
"To ease the minds of the men before the storming of the Roer River the SSO was showing the first motion pictures the Battalion had seen in quite some time. The building that was used as the theater was a single story auditorium located in the center of the village. The floor was piled with trash, planks, barrels and boxes just as are most buildings in newly taken towns. It was easy for the men to make seats out of this material. There were two exits from the building, one located in the front and the other in the rear."
"As the second reel was being put into the projector, the sound of a lone plane broke the stillness of the night; this is a common sound and it was forgotten in a short time. It was but a few minutes before the lights were to go out when a Captain stepped between the screen on the stage and the projector and told us that enemy flares had been dropped over the village and we were to file out of the theater in orderly manner and go straight home. The men began to stand and move over those make-shift benches towards the doors. A couple of the fellows standing near the windows pulled the shades up, letting in the light from the flares. Some of the men, seeing these flares, became panicky and charged for the door, causing much disorder. At this time the bombs were dropping around us and the blast was knocking a few men to the floor. The sky was filled with planes making like the sound of a dog fight. As the men were going out, there was a loud explosion that sounded as if it was in the building and a large support beam fell to the floor in the center of the large room injuring a few men. Luckily there was no one injured seriously. As we made our exit, there was a Major standing just outside the door, who told us to stay close to the wall of the building so we would cast no shadow."
"A few seconds after the bomb hit so close to us there was a screaming of a plane coming in on us and those along the wall hit the ground as 20mm and machine gun fire, hitting the building head high, came at us from the plane."
"After ten minutes of bombing and gunning the planes left us as quickly as they had come, leaving the calm night broken only by the sound of a pair of feet every now and then running for a safer shelter and the ambulances on the prowl for the wounded." (Cpl. Fitzpatrick, "C" Btry.)
Our attack was scheduled to start a few days after we arrived, but the Germans succeeded in blowing the sluice gates of the dams at Schmidt that controlled the flow of the Roer River, thus putting the river at a flood-stage. This delayed our crossing by ten days.
We had always marveled at the amount and variety of artillery massed in this sector, but it was impossible to realize this great strength until H-hour came. At 0245 February 23rd, the artillery preparation for the crossing began. It was tremendous! The sharp crack of our 105s was nearly drowned out by the deep rumble of the heavy artillery. Everywhere we looked the blackness was pierced with vivid flashes. We could see the white hot shells leave the guns, and land in the distance. We wondered how anything could possibly survive that barrage. After the final saturation concentration fired at the rate of five rounds per minute for five minutes, the gun tubes were so hot that they would blister a hand if touched. Although the gun crews fired over 2400 rounds in two hours they were still out for blood and would have gladly repeated the performance. Statistics later showed us that there was one artillery piece every 15.6 yards on the 9th Army Front; 65,261 rounds were fired in the hour and a total of 131,851 rounds were fired in the first four hours to accomplish this mission.
The assualt troops of the 102nd Infantry Division jumped off at 0330 hours and were successful in our area from the start, so that in a short time we were out of range. Our barrages had not only caused severe casualties to the Germans, but had completely destroyed their communication systems.
On February 25th CC"B" was committed, and we were in our favorite roll of direct support for that unit. We crossed the Roer at Linnich and moved to positions at Kofferen. Here some Jerry issued "A" Btry four rounds of his death dealing 150mm artillry.
"I was standing in the executive half-track shooting the breeze with Cpl. Persikini when we heard this big baby "whisper" in. I had the unusual experience of seeing the projectile bury itself in the ground but it popped out three or four feet further on and spun around on its side. I was paralyzed momentarily until I saw Persikini dive for a fox hole. I thought that was a damned good idea and followed suit. Immediately three more shells dropped in, one of which sent Sgt. Burke to the hospital." (Lt. Hauenschild, "A" Btry)
A large amount of artillery including heavy caliber was falling close on the heels of the forward elements. The bridgehead was steadily being enlarged, our troops were jammed in this small area.
You often read in the newspapers of armor driving through a hole punched in the enemy lines by the infantry, but this was the first time in our career that we passed the infantry as they still sat in their trenches. We took up firing positions immediately in front of them. This drive shortly assumed the characteristics of the old familiar "rat race". Resistance was stiff but we steamrolled our way through. "A" Btry lost its 5th section M-7 in a mine field; fortunately no serious casualties occurred. Our old fear of the treachery of the German civilian that originated in Wallendorf was somewhat neutralized as we saw them being herded to the rear areas.
These people had lost all their arrogance, which was replaced by a dazed, dread fear. A state of panic motivated by our curt orders caused them to flee the battle zone as we drove on.
"Do you want some fun? Try asking Capt. Stewart how he got his Purple Heart. It seems that someone had read the map wrong and Mont made a reconnaissance for Service Battery in a town that was in various stages of being captured. His recon work was evidently done in the Kraut held part, because when he made his way back to where the other R.O. sections were, he was overheard to say to Capt. Frederickson. "Say, Doc, I've got a hole in my ass." (Capt. Blackburn, "C" Btry).
While we pulled into position at Bucholz a full scale tank battle was raging. Before establishing our C.P. in a house at the edge of town, it was necessary to search the building for snipers. We lacked time to check the rest of the town, for it was at a premium. Several hours later after Headquarters battery was established, the rest of the town was cleared of Krauts. After we completed our registration, the doughboys jumped off from behind us and took up defensive positions outside of Rheindahlen. The city was full of enemy troops and their armor caused our forward elements a great deal of trouble. To overcome this opposition Col. Cole, CC"B" commanding officer, called for air support, and we marked the target with colored smoke.
"The artillery liaison officer, Capt. Richard A. Rowlands, radioed from his peep to the 7lst batteries for a counter-flak barrage and red and white smoke shells to mark the target. The artillery fire was laid, corrected and laid again. Then the Thunderbolts made a wide sweep toward the target and peeling off singly, dived and dumped their loads. The town rocked from the tremendous explosions." (5th Armored History, Attack")
This was a fast moving action. Anything could happen, as witnessed by one of our forward observers. "- - - the task force had covered about 15 miles by noon and lost several men but no vehicles. We had destroyed several German guns and some tanks, and had taken many prisoners. All of a sudden in a small burg by the name of Rheindahlen, we struck a snag. Able 22 was the fourth tank in line at the time. We ran into eight dug-in self-propelled 88mm anti-tank guns and some German tanks. Everyone was blasting away. The tank to our right was knocked out, also the one in front of us as well as the one to our left. We knew we had it coming next, but there was nothing we could do about it. We were stuck our there like a sore thumb. The next thing we knew periscopes were flying all over the place. Everyone sat stunned as hell. That round hit the right side of the turret, unseating it. It was only a second before we started bailing out. Just as we left her another round hit on the same side, only lower down on the hull. Some other fellows who saw us coming out said we looked like a human chain fastened head to foot. We lay in the diteh for some time, while they kept pounding our tank until it finally burned. Lt. Henry's remark was, "It boint to a crisp."" (Sgt. McGlamery, Hq. Btry)
February 28th seemed to be a day for freak accidents in Headquarters Battery. Sgt. McNair was working on his radio in his tank when some Jerry planes came over. Upon hearing the ack-ack, he stuck his head out of the turret just as a falling 37mm shell exploded against the hatch. He was evacuated with superficial face wounds, bu returned two days later. Tec. 5th John O'Hagen opened the wrong door in the C.P., fell down a flight of cellar steps and broke his leg. Tec. 5th Millage Murdaugh, while attempting to put up an aerial for a radio, fell from a tree and broke his arm.
Now that CC"B"s mission had been accomplished, we remained in this position for several days. It seemed strange to us that the war could sweep by so fast when only a short time ago we were right in the middle of it. The German civilians had left behind a plentiful supply of livestock and poultry. As a result, the kitchens had plenty of fresh beef. French fries and fried chicken provided an excellent snack before retiring.
After an all night march we arrived at Kempen early in the morning of March 4th. Here again, the entire battalion was bivouaced in houses. Since we were not within range, our chief duties were eating, sleeping, and guard.
When day-light arrived and we filed by the kitchen crew to get dehydrated eggs, we noticed that George Heim was missing his store-bought teeth. Upon interrogation, Heim admitted losing them over the tail-gate of the kitchen truck during the march as he was liberating some "liberated" wine.
While we rested, we pondered over the possibility of the Germans making good a final stand in a redoubt area in the South of Germany.
The front lines on the 9th Army Sector were established along the banks of the Rhine. We were convinced now all of Germany would have to be overrun, and we looked forward to an early crossing of the Rhine. The shortest, quickest, most permanent way home was through Berlin.
Immense warehouses full of Rhine wine were captured by the division. This was issued to us by sections and many a toast to early victory was drunk. During our pleasant break, we were sobered by the news that Pfc. Kenneth LaFromboise was drowned when boating in a nearby lake.
March 12th we moved, under Division Artillery control, to relieve the 65th Armored F.A. Bn at Meere Busch, a suburb of Dusseldorf on the west bank of the Rhine. Here our mission was to support the 4th Cavalry Group and keep the Germans uneasy as to our strength and intentions in this area. For the first few days there wasn't a great deal of activity and we spent most of our time enjoying our very comfortable quarters and making ourselves at home. Bathing facilities were convenient in every house, and even the toilets flushed. We supplied electricity with our now numerous small generators. Spring was in the air, and we dug out the long buried
baseball gloves and volley ball equipment and enjoyed getting outside. Headquarters was quite interested in discovering the history of the former use of its large home - - it was stocked with hundreds of diapers and innumerable quantities of baby clothing.
They eventually discovered the homey spot was one of the Nazi homes where unwed mothers received medical attention. The C.P. building was located in an attractively landscaped yard, complete with swimming pool. We nearly forgot the war, yet if we walked away from the protection of the buildings, we could be seen by the German held east bank of the river. Most of our heavy firing was at night in support of the Cavalry's aggressive patrolling across the river. The Germans retaliated to this by sending back generous amounts of counter-battery fires during the day.
"Z" battery was formed by Major Smith with a captured 122mm gun. This gun was used to harrass the enemy and the first rounds were fired at a healthy elevation, in order to clear our own troops. Even after reducing the range some 7000 yards the rounds were unobserved.
Many targets of opportunity were fired here, with Major Atkinson firing the classic problem by chasing a Kraut on a bicycle. Incidently the fire was ineffective and the enemy "troop" and his bicycle escaped unharmed.
Our missions were varied and often included the firing of propaganda leaflets.
"About two o'clock in the afternoon we started throwing this propaganda at them and we shifted all over the compass. Long range and short ranges, we really sprayed them around. When we fired the fifth round the Jerries answered with a round of HE and this kept up until we got rid of all of our "library". I requested to be allowed to throw in some white phosphorus, because I knew the bastards would understand that, but the Battalion couldn't see it my way." (S/Sgt. Shultz, "B" Btry).
Fire Mission 6
RAT RACE -- RHINE TO WESER
The British and Americans were rapidly expanding their bridge-head across the Rhine at Wesel, while from Remagen bridge-head the armored spearheads were beginning to rip into Germany's vitals. We knew our time for commitment was real close. The action would be welcome to us as a necessary step in ending the war, and we didn't want the Huns ever to have the time or place to get set and balanced.
"I was on the evening shift at fire-direction. It promised to be a quiet evening, no patrols were scheduled, and each of us was spending the time as he pleased. One or two were writing and a checker game was attracting several kibitzers. Major Atkinson strode into the room carrying some overlays, and I immediately sensed that the "big picture" was to break. I didn't overhear any of the quick briefing the Major gave the officers in the room, but the plan slowly revealed itself as everyone worked getting the route marked on the maps."
"Sgts. Troia and Bennett brought in the supply of maps and began breaking them down for distribution to the batteries. The Major and Sgt. Werning began to trace the data from the overlays onto the maps we'd use. As they worked, the air in the room seemed to become activated from our growing tension and amazement. After finishing one 1/100,000 map the two men put their work on the wall of the large room, began work on another. We were to move north, cross the Rhine at Wesel, and proceed to an assembly area outside Munster.
That "approach march" would be one day's work, as Munster was about ninety miles away. To me, sitting in that room and having the S-2 situation map for reference, there was but one catch so far: Munster was still some thirty miles behind the enemy front lines.
"From that area, we would jump off towards our objective. The red china marking pencil lines traced a course a little north-east following the open country of the great northern plains, skirting Minden on the South, and aiming for Hannover. If we did succeed in getting there, Jerry could be counted on to fight to keep the lines of communication open between there and Brunswick. The plan was bold, the element I did not hear clearly mentioned that night was the time schedule, but the general talk in the room gave me the impression that we'd be on a "rat race" time-table."
"Someone mentioned an oft-repeated quote from one of the General's speeches, "It may be a short life, but a busy one." If the attack ever rolled, we knew definitely that we would have knocked out the enemy's means of waging war. They might fight in the redoubt area, but their supplies would be very limited. We also calculated some other points: we could expect every civilian to be working against us,nearly every element of surprise would be the enemy's, the supply lines would be dangerously long and easily open to ambush."
"When the map work was completed, seven different 1/100,000 maps had been needed to plot the route --- the distance was approximately 250 miles though only 175 miles of that was still Hun heartland. We just sat and looked at the display, and thought." (T/5 Berns, Hq Btry).
We moved about twenty miles the next day to the division assembly area near Anrath, and awaited road priority for two days. March 31st we crossed the Rhine River at Wesel.
"Spring had come to Germany; a cold spring, but this day was sunny, the countryside was green, trees were sprouting new leaves, and fruit trees were beginning to blossom. I enjoyed the ride and seeing the sights. My outstanding memory was of the approaches to the bridges across the Rhine and Wesel itself. In the area on the west bank the debris of battle revealed all too clearly the terrific fighting that had taken place there earlier. We passed through a very well camouflaged but now badly battered airfield. Many Sherman tanks and other armored vehicles had been knocked out there, and large pockets of seared timber lay like jack-straws where bombs had fallen." (T/4 Bennet, Hq Btry).
In the village, apparently used as an assembly point of equipment for the jump-off across the Rhine, we began to see signs of the immense engineering work necessary to keep the attack going. Every type and kind of equipment littered the area --- huge bulldozers and pile-drivers, armored ammphibious vehicles, lumber and steel construction material. The roads were jammed with American and British trucks. Because of the great length of the bridges, not more than two vehicles were permitted to be on the pontoons at one time and the traffic piled up at the bottleneck. Although no enemy planes came over, we had a feeling of definite security as we observed the great concentration of anti-aircraft artillery and barrage balloons that had been assembled to protect this vital but weak link in our supply line. A railroad bridge, additional pontoon bridges and the pipe lines were being thrown across the river to subsititue for the permanent bridges that had been destroyed by the retreating Germans.
As we passed through Wesel, the city was a smoldering ruin, as a result of the terrific air and artillery bombardment that preceded the attack. In many spots huge craters marked locations of former buildings. A red brick dust filled the air as the "saturation" bombing had pulverized almost everything. There wasn't a sign of life, even the trees had been seared of their fresh new greenness.
A few miles beyond the town, we passed evidences of the airborne assault that landed in the rear of the German lines. Field after field was littered with gliders and parachutes. Some of these giant planes were intact but many were wrecked where they had crashed into orchards, fences and buildings.
In every village the Nazi emblem was replaced by bed sheets. Frightened civilians peered from doorways, and freed slave laborers stood in small groups on the streets, marveling at our equipment.
These displaced persons were filing down the roads with their meager possessions tied on their backs. Their half-shy attitude toward us clearly demonstrated the fear of the Germans that continued to shroud their minds. The pass-word, as we came into our assembly area just outside Munster was, "Watch the left flank". The billeting party had been in this area prior to our arrival and had been warned by the outposts of the British Seventh Armored Division that this wasn't considered to be in friendly hands. It was dark when we finally "coiled" for the night, but the burning village to our direct front allowed us enough
illumnination to see, rather than feel what we were doing.
Easter Sunday, April 1st, the "rat race" took off. During that day we drove about fifty miles over roads that were made mushy by the spring rains, through heavily wooded areas and across a pontoon bridge built by the engineers of CC"A" over the Erft Canal. Halting now and then for light resistance encountered by the "point", we went into position that first night well after dark. Fourteen members of the Wehrmacht surrendered to "A" Btry while the guns were being laid to the east. Shortly after all guns were laid, the order was given to change the direction of fire and we shifted to the north. Just enough time elapsed for us to settle down when the command of "Lay the battery on compass 4800" came from fire direction, and so we were now laid to the west. Before the night ended we were laid in the original direction of east.
"The sun was shining and it was a warm April afternoon. Some planes came overhead and we were straining our necks trying to identify them. Suddenly we heard several shells burst in the field to our left. Next, one of the rounds hit an ammunition trailer that was towed by one of Service Battery's trucks about three vehicles ahead of us in the column. It immediately burst into flames. Another round burst on the side of the road in front of the truck just ahead of the burning trailer. The vehicles between us and the damaged ones moved on to safety and Johnson eased the ambulance up to where Entz and Ward were treating the men who had been wounded. Meanwhile a light tank from Hq Co. CC"B", moved up and eliminated the SP gun that was giving us that trouble." (Cpl. Nichols, Med. Det.).
We were well into the second day of this drive, and had not fired a round until we went into position short of Horste. Here we laid a terrific barrage on that village so that CC"B" could occupy it before night-fall. After the preparation had been completed we advanced to new positions under the cover of darkness.
"It was 2300 hours, near Horste, Germany, when I met my R.O., Lt. Paul McWain, who had selected the battery position. It was pitch dark, so Lt. McWain and I made a quick foot reconnaissance around the position. I knew the ground was soft and water-logged but decided to make the best of the situation. I put all the sections but one in position, purposely leaving that one on the road to pull out any vehicle that might get stuck. at 0600 my recorder, Cpl Malushinsky, awoke me by yelling "March Order, March Order". The order of march was A, B, C which meant I had to move immediately.I instructed Sgt. Szafran to use his M-7 to pull all the half-tracks onto the road. This was an easy job and all vehicles but 5 M-7's were soon on the road ready to go. In the meantime I had instructed my remaining five chiefs of section to move their M-7's to the road by the shortest and most direct route. S/Sgt. Claydon, chief of the first section, started out, moved about 50 yards and couldn't move another inch. Mud! Cpl. Short, Sgts. Zajackowski, Gargis and Ellis started toward the road but their luck was the same. Here we were five M-7's stuck and Major Atkinson, our S-3, yells over the radio, "3 to Able 5, move out." "Able 5 to 3, can't move, big boys are on their bellies". 3 then radioed Baker 5 to move out. We tried everything imaginable, but failed to move the M-7's an inch. All of them were in mud so deep you could step out of the M-7 onto the ground."
"My motor section, S/Sgt. Robert Lenzner, S/Sgt. Clarence Demlow, Tec 4 J.P.Hudson and Tec 5 J.B.Dean put their heads together and decided to use the winch on their half track to pull the big boys out. I thought this would be impossible but told them to go ahead as it was our last resort. Under S/Sgt. Lenzner's supervision and to everyone's surprise, the M-7's and trailers were winched inch by inch to the road. The cable snapped as the last M-7 was being pulled out. By splicing tow cables to this winch the last M-7 was finally on the road." (Lt. Kulhanek, "A" Btry)
On April 3rd the column was making good time toward the Weser River. Town after town fell to us without resistance, many of which were railroad centers jammed with valuable prizes of war, consisting of loaded freight trains and locomotives in working condition. The day was not an uneventful one for us however, as "B" Btry in a rapid occupation of position fired on and neutralized two 88mm guns.
Further along the route of march, the air above the column was suddenly filled with time fire. Almost immediately the direct firing weapons were located about 800 yards off on the left flank.
Major Smith sent the order down for the leading section of "B" Btry to double the column to the point of the trouble. Meanwhile Lt McWain had taken charge of a TD further up the column and Capt. Floyd had dashed into a nearby house to establish an O.P. Soon the encouraging blasts of the M-7 and the TD drowned out the noise of the air bursts. Several rounds were exchanged before our guns silenced the enemy battery. As the short but vicious fight ended,
Capt. Floyd and Tec 4 Bennett emerged from the prospective O.P. with three prisoners who had been comfortably settled in the house as the column passed.
As we went through Bad Oyenhausen, we noticed all of the street were deserted. Many military hospitals were located in the town and it was a queer feeling to see the Kraut soldiers watching you from the windows as you drove past. It was almost like a ghost town and we cursed ourselves for not having the time to stop and investigate it. A few miles outside the city our drive was brought to a complete halt, when the Boche succeeded in blowing all of the bridges across the Weser River. Our mission was then to harass the enemy on the far side and to interdict the Autobahn. Prisoners from disorganized units streamed into our
positions for several days.
We had moved slightly north with the original intention of firing on Minden, if an ultimatum was ignored, but our mission was changed to that of supporting the 84th Infantry Division in the crossing of the Weser. Several good targets were taken under fire, the best being a flak-train armed with 105mm AA guns, which we destroyed.
Fire Mission 7
VICTORY DIVISION NEARS BERLIN
After supporting the 84th Division's crossing, we were given the assignment of reinforcing the fires of the 47th Armd FA Bn, who was in direct support of CC"A". We drove south and east along the banks of the Weser, crossing the river at historic Hameln, of Pied Piper fame, about dusk.
"After crossing the Weser River at 1800 hours, Sgt. C.M. Bass's half-track, driven by Roscoe Durham, had engine trouble. Not having the time to repair it, we started towing it with the Maintenance half-track. We went about five miles and then turned off the highway onto a muddy road. The further we went the muddier it got. Both half-tracks being loaded, we were finally forced to leave the ammunition half-track sit. We went on through the muddy field pulling several jeeps out of the mud and also one of Service Btry's gas trucks. We finally came to another hard surface road, only to find that we were all by ourselves; one gas truck and a half-track. We started down the road, stopping at every little cross road trying to find which way the Battalion had gone. We expected to be fired at every time we turned a corner. It was so dark that we almost ran over several German trailers lying in the road.
We traveled this way until about 2 o'clock in the morning when we came upon a light tank and a medium tank. Both were out of gas so we decided to stay with them until morning. The next morning we started out again. We had gone about 5 miles when we came upon one of our M-7's with a track off of it.
Cpl Virgil L. Corne started fixing our breakfast while Sgt. James Walraven, Sgt. Carl Sellenriek, mechanics, and myself, with the help of Sgt. Olfield Jarrell (Chief of Section) and Sgt. Russell (driver), started getting the track ready to put on, only to find we needed another block. We decided we would eat breakfast while trying to find a solution to our problem. Lt. Stine, coming back to look for us, was the answer; he soon got a block from one of our other M-7's which was about 5 miles from there. We fixed the track and then caught up with the rest of our battery. Our ammunition half-track was returned that day." (S/Sgt. William Dozard, "C" Btry).
From that day, the drive became a true "rat race". The old familiar tactics of by-passing heavy resistance by using secondary roads and passing through only small villages were put to use again. Sixty and seventy mile marches were standard operations during the passing of those lightning fast days. The deeper we drove into
the Reich the longer our supply lines were stretched and the more difficult the job of Service Battery became.
"There were those two stars (CG 84th Inf Div) shining like diamonds. As I gave him a snappy salute, he stopped and said, "Lt., are those trucks with you?" "Yes sir", I answered. "Well don't you know this convoy you're passing is a combat outfit?" "Yes sir, but does the General know that he's about ninety miles behind the front lines?"
Naturally that did it. "God damit", he said, "you know better than trying to break up a convoy." "Yes sir, I know, but my unit, the 71st Armd FA Bn of the 5th Armored Division is about ninety miles from here and we need gasoline in a bad way." "I don't give a damn which unit you're in, pull those trucks out of the way right now." I said, "yes sir." He left and we delivered our gas. (Censored, Sv Btry) (Lt. Beaupre)
That day German air activity increased over the column. All sizes and types either roared or limped past. Our ack-ack would pull off to the side of the road at the slightest pause, but the highlight of the day was when "Aces" Francies and Martin blasted one out of the air from their cub.
Lts. Martin and Francies were flying reconnaissance for the tanks when they sighted the German observation plane not far off and flying low. Going after it they came in from above and fired their 45 cal. pistols by leaning out the window. They hit the windshield, the right gas tank, and wounded the observer in the foot. The plane crashed immediately and Lt. Francies landed alongside of it. The German pilot and observer were both taken prisoners.
Our deep penetration into the Fatherland had utterly demoralized the Germans and they poured into the column to surrender. They came in such large numbers that armed escort was impossible, and so they filed down the road by themselves to our P.W. enclosures located in the rear.
"There's some German officers down there," yelled a tanker to the passing Charlie Recon peep containing the newly battle-field commissioned Lt. Jack Stine, battery interpreter John "Goebbels" Hirnschall, and the driver, Pvt. Bert L. Johnson. The peep teed-off down the side street. Sure enough, a German officer ducked into one of the houses with the three in hot pursuit. Glib Hirnschal quickly inquired of the fearstruck inhabitants where the officers were and the people readily disclosed the information. The three surprised the colonel. The fast talking interpreter convinced him that resistance was useless. "This is the end," cried the Colonel and gave orders to his dog-robbing captain-aide to round up the rest of the staff. Hirnschall followed. When he returned with the complete staff, Pvt. Hirnschall found Lt. Stine and Pvt. Johnson already sampling the colonel's wines. (Cpl. Wolkofsky, "C" Btry).
"Over the crackling radio came the excited yell of the smiling Irishman, Cpl. Fitzpatrick. "I got a German big shot -- a general at least, maybe more!" On the B.C. half-track bumper rode the "General" dressed in his velvet blue uniform with the medals, hashmarks, and stripes. Quick interrogation revealed that the decorated General was only a German trainman in his full dress uniform. Muttering to himself, Fitz walked away -- "Damn all these uniforms anyway." (Cpl. Williamson, "C" Btry).
On April 12th Lt. Col. Washburn announced our next objective as the bridge across the Elbe River at Tangermunde, some fifty odd miles due east. Here we were to secure a bridgehead, if possible.
The head of the column engaged in short fire fights during this drive, but our support was not needed until we reached our final objective. The bridge was intact and we immediately went into position and covered the entire structure with time-fire to prevent the enemy from blowing it under our noses. Our efforts were of no avail however, and as our forward elements prepared to cross, the plunger was pushed and our beautiful bridge went skyhigh. With the bridge destroyed, our interest in the town turned to the problem of releasing about 500 American prisoners of war held there. Because of them, our fire was held while the tankers and doughs fought the OCS candidates who were determined to die for the Fatherland.
"Enemy planes became quite numerous as the Battalion approached the Elbe River and the cubs were being warned continually to look out for them. On one such warning, Lt. Nicol and I were caught with two F.W.190's on our tail. We headed straight for the ground in a diving turn; the 190's missed with their machine gun fire but the cub was still in the middle of all the ack-ack being fired at the Fockerwulfes. However by some chance we weren't hit and landed a few seconds later so that we could light up a Camel, and rub our rabbit's foot."
(Lt. Sorenson, Air Observer)
"A date that will always be remembered by men of "C" Battery is April 12, 1945, for on that date the air was filled with flak and low flying German fighters and bombers, all attempting to escape across the Elbe River from the airport at Stendal, which was rapidly being surrounded by 5th Armored Division troops. Within an hour or so at least four planes were observed to have been shot down by the murderous curtain of anti-aircraft fire put up by units of CC"A".
One incident in particular brings back memories to all of us. Suddenly the air was filled with tracers from the multiple 50 cal. guns of Battery B, 387th AA Bn. In the distance, flying at tree top level and headed directly over the battery position, was a JU-88.
Almost immediately all other machine guns in the battery joined in the serenade to this unwelcome visitor, every gun was pumping round after round into our enemy. The plane was so low we couldn't miss.
It was the kind of target every soldier dreams of but seldom sees. The rest of us standing around the position with nothing to shoot were cheering on our machine gunners, "Kill the dirty bastard," or "Look at 'em pour it to him." Within a few seconds the plane burst into flame and came crashing into the battery position. Few of us realized how close we came to meeting our Maker that day until it was all over and we had more time to think. As it plunged into the ground, the plane's wing hit one of our ack-ack half-tracks. Men were running in every direction to escape the flying parts and burning oil that was thrown for hundreds of yards by the explosion.
Our main concern was to escape from beneath the curtain of dense black smoke and blazing oil. As men would scramble toward safety they would fall, pick themselves up, and continue running. Suddenly it was all over and the burning wreckage of the plane was scattered over a radius of three hundred yards. One motor was thrown by the force of the explosion to the other end of the battery position. We counted the bodies of five airmen in the charred wreckage but we too had our casualties. Three persons were injured when the plane struck the ack-ack half-track. Tec 5 Willis A. Stroud, Battery "C" was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for heroic action. He raced to the burning half-track in order to remove the injured gunner from the vehicle, but was hit and seriously
wounded by the exploding ammunition." (Capt. Blackburn, "C" Btry)
"Medic Dan! Medic Dan! The cry arose above the din of the excitement. Sgt. Edward L. Hoak was holding an ack-ack man in his arms while I administered first aid. Big, bald, jocular Hoak was cuddling and mothering the small wounded man. In direct contrast to the perspiring, nervous Hoak was the calm, disinterested injured man, unperturbed at the flying debris whizzing over the heads of the three-some. When it was over, smiling good natured Hoak confided to me, "You know, it's a good thing I have a big mouth -- otherwise you'd never have heard me!" Meanwhile, cursing eloquently, Captain Blackburn resumed his interrupted shave." (Pfc. Soloman, "C" Btry Aid Man).
Our cub had discovered the railroad bridge several miles downstream from town, still undamaged. A task force, including our battalion, was rushed northward to sieze it. Again the leading elements met frenzied resistance, and we placed fire on the bridge and area to forbid the enemy an opportunity to prepare demolitions. But the charges had already been laid and as the tankers fought through, the bridge was blown.
We were stopped! No other permanent bridges were across the river in our zone and we could turn our attention and fire-power back to the enemy in Tangermunde and settle the score for this treacherous behavior during negotiations for the surrender of the town. A tremendous TOT (time on target) of the division's massed fire-power was arranged. The tank destroyers, tanks, mortar platoons, the 47th and our battalion of 105's, and
attached battalions of heavier artillery joined in the assault. The boom we lowered on that town seemed as
viciously destructive as the Roer artillery preparations.
April 13th we moved to an airport at Stendal to support CC"A" in cleaning out pockets of resistance. We registered in this position, but no fires were needed and we spent hours investigating the airfield installation -- looting was exceptionally good and parachutes, guns, flying suits, goggles and helmets were added to our souvenir collections. The Luftwaffe had left warehouses filled with cognac, panther juice, and wine. We hated to leave that spot, but our mission was to support the 102nd and 84th Infantry Divisions in a crossing of the river.
We moved April 14th and were the closest American unit to Berlin, approximately 45 miles away. The orders for the attack were postponed several times, and the situation seemed snafu to us. It wasn't till later that we learned that the Elbe was a prearranged line for meeting the Russians.
Fire Mission 8
FINIS LA GUERRE
Combat Command "B" was given the mission of mopping up some by-passed enemy troops, who were attacking our supply lines in the Klotze area. We were in the direct support role and moved to Kunrau on April 16. We moved north to Gladdenstadt the next day, where we fired on an enemy concentration, knocking out one scout car and possibly two tanks. The Battalion then proceeded to Hazelhorst where registration was completed to support road blocks over an extended area.
Enemy activity increased greatly on April 18. We fired at concentrations of enemy armor and other targets for both of the Combat Command's task forces and for the British troops to our north. Task Force Dickenson sent a married platoon for our local protection before dark, but they were attacked by an enemy column before their position was organized. The enemy armor was preceded by a captured American vehicle, and had other America vehicles in the column, which caused the road block to hold its fire until the enemy was upon them. The platoon was then forced to withdraw to the immediate vicinity of the CP. We fired a large amount of ammunition on the enemy in the woods to our north, inflicting severe damage. The attack was repulsed and interdictions were continued.
"We were loaded for a mission using shell WP but the order was changed to shell HE. Nail used the short end of the rammer to push the shell out. We loaded again and fired. I bet the Jerries thought it was a secret weapon because No. 5 fired the ramme staff." (Sgt. Douglas, "C" Btry).
The next morning the air observer spotted a column of 50 vehicles entering the woods to our south-east. These were taken under fire, but we now had enemy troops on three sides of us. Two tanks which were in position outside of our CP were knocked out by an AT gun, and some of the rounds aimed at the tanks entered the building in which the Fire Direction Center was working. They set the building on fire and forced us to withdraw.
"We had our Fire Direction Center set up in the driveway of a large barn, which was just one building of many in that court. We had made ourselves fairly comfortable with a roof over our heads, straw to sleep on, a captured Heinie radio to listen to, etc. We were set to more or less take it easy and to enjoy this cleaning up of a small group of Germans who were bothering our supply lines. I guess that is why this will stand out as one of my unforgettable experiences of the war. On the evening of 18th of April we were getting reports of various German vehicles seen scooting from one woods to another to the east and north of us. In checking the situation map we were quick to notice that we stuck out like a sorethumb on our north flank. We succeeded in getting a small road block from ourinfantry and tankers and they were put into position just to our north a couple of miles.
Things were looking better when we got notice from the road block that vehicles could be heard moving in the woods just to our north a mile or so. We hoped that they were on their way through and didn't plan on stopping. I went on shift at midnight and little did I realize that this was to be one of the busiest nights that we had ever had in Fire Direction. Tec 5 Bolinger, who was on guard just outside our CP, came into the trailer about 4 AM and told me that he could definitely hear voices as well as vehicles in the woods just to our front and that he didn't like it a bit. I passed the information on to Major Atkinson. He picked out several spots in the woods that looked like likely places for them to be hiding in and we proceeded to lay a gun on each point and put a few rounds in there every once in a while.
At about the same time Capt. Crowell, who was with one of our Combat Command units, began to call for some fires on the woods they were sweating out. It seemed that they were having the same trouble that we were. This situation prevailed until I went off shift at 0730. We fired approximately 1000 rounds until that time. I was dead tired so I went into the next room and crawled into some straw for a nice sleep. Suddenly after about 45 minutes of this "nice sleep" I was awakened by lots of noise and scrambling. A tremendous "clap" pierced the air and brick dust was flying everywhere. When I fully came to I was on my hands and knees crawling out the front door and wishing that I had a nice big hole to crawl into. After a few minutes of cowering in the corner of two nice thick brick walls I finally mustered up enough courage to go back into the barn, get my steel helmet, gun and blankets and help to load up our equipment. It was then I noticed that the tank which was parked just outside our back door was hit and burning fiercely. The rounds that we were receiving were near-misses on the tank. Several of the rounds had gone completely through four brick walls, but we had our usual luck and suffered no casualties. In a matter of a few minutes we were completely loaded and were on our way out of that place setting a new record, I know, for speed in moving out. As we moved down the road we could see our former CP being engulfed by smoke and flames. We thundered down the side road to the next town and proceeded to set up for business again. It was a job unscrambling the things that we had so hastily loaded just a few minutes prior." (Sgt. Werning, Hq Btry).
New positions were occupied at Ohrdorf where we resumed firing on the enemy troops, now known to be the Panzer Division Von Clausewitz. The commanding general of that division, who was captured later, related that his biggest mistake had been to move to those woods south-east of Hazelhorst.
"Ours was an outpost to the left flank of "B" and "C" batteries. It was a very dark night. We were still jittery from reports that we were facing from three to five thousand German troops. No one could sleep.
We were conscious of every noise and when we heard the distant hum of motors coming our way we really started to sweat! The noise of moving vehicles became louder as they approached us. We could see the many exhausts, but all we could do was to wait until daylight. Lt. McNees held our fire because our M-7 lacked maneuverability, so as not to disclose our positions and until we could positively identify the column as German. Thank goodness it was Spring and daylight came early. We had notified the gun batteries. They had moved into position facing the suspected road and when the first streaks of daylight came we were ready. We saw the German vehicles and some fancy direct fire was spewed by the batteries. Those 105mm shells were wicked!
After the smoke cleared, we saw a number of Kraut vehicles, some of which burned for a considerable while. We had bagged an armored car, a personnel carrier, ammunition truck and a motorcycle. There were a number of Germans dead, and several wounded, also a few prisoners were taken. This was the first time men of the batteries could see how destructive their guns could be. This also was the final phase of the war for us, though at the time we did not know it." (Sgt. Henderson, "B" Btry).
This was, without a doubt, an outstanding decisive artillery victory. Our artillery stopped, scattered, flushed out and killed the enemy by the hundreds. Entire woods and towns were plastered and made untenable for the shell-blitzed Von Clausewiz personnel and vehicles. Captured German soldiers and even this Panzer Division's staff related how terrifying their saturation with high-explosive shells had been in their last days of the war, and what a deciding factor the American artillery had been in their unhappy end as an organization and as individuals.
April 22nd we moved to Lindhof, one of the villages devastated by our fires of the past few days, and had the opportunity to observe how effectively we'd performed those missions. Most of the homes in the small village were battered or burned to the ground, and a column of about twenty vehicles had been destroyed. With the destruction of the enemy division, our supply lines were secure and we returned to the Elbe River on the 25th of April under control of Division Artillery. Our new positions were again well forward; the river was just a few hundred yards in front of us and the infantry of the 29th Division were billeted in the same town with us. "C" Btry was used in registration, notable as the last round fired by the battalion. "C" Btry therefore had the distinction of firing both the first and last rounds of the war for us.
The days passed slowly as the battery RO sections alternated at manning the single OP on the river's edge; men in the batteries remained by the guns and kept their eyes to the east hopefully seeking a red flare - the signal of the Russian's approach. As in any inactive period, some prowling took place.
"Well, we were on the Elbe River again. We kept hearing rumors that the Germans were surrendering by the thousands. This looked like it was the end of the war. Hell man, after sweating it out for so damn long, a guy wants a drink when he can look around and see that the good earth is still under his feet and not over him.
So a couple of us started out looking for that stuff that comes in bottles, which makes you forget all the things you want to forget. There was a little town in back of our battery position so we headed for it. In one yard we noticed a large wood pile and a small one. Now why the hell a small one? We poked around and wow! It was loaded with cases of whiskey. We broke open th boxes and found some sacks and filled 'em up with those big square bottles. We finally managed to get back to the battery and boy were we feeling good by then. When a guy wanted a drink he got a quart. Other men went down there and came back loaded. We really celebrated V-E day on the Elbe River prematurely." (A couple of guys from "A" Btry)
The German Army was beaten and demoralized - they knew it, and we knew it. Their obsession and hope were to find safety in our lines from the Russians. Many disorganized bands of soldiers on the eastern bank wandered about hunting means to cross. Logs and boards were lashed together with clothing to make rafts, and old shovels were used as paddles. Some men swam across. We stood on our side of the river and enjoyed
watching their efforts to cross. Frequently, the sky behind the Germans would glow to the bright light of a red flare which was answered from our side with a green flare. At other places along the river, the American troops were arranging the surrender of fully equipped regiments and divisions of the defeated enemy.
"Lt. Nicol and I were flying patrol on the river when we saw a column of enemy vehicles approaching. Well, we kept circling around and found out that they were "throwing in the towel", so Nicol took a closer look and we satisfied ourselves that it was the truth, so we went down the line of vehicles for several miles where no other cub or Americans had been, as yet. I suggested that we set the plane down and pick up a few pistols. So down we went. After we were on the ground we began to realize just how foolish we were because here were several thousand enemy troops going by, in full battle dress with guns of all kinds and there we were, two Lts. with a .45 apiece, watching. We finally remembered what we had come for so we got an officer and told him to stop the column and to pile all the pistols near the plane.
They started to unload all their rifles as well but we told them to hang on to them, that they would be picked up at the river where the troops were waiting for them. Inside of 20 minutes we had more than we could possibly take off with, so we ordered the officers to get the column headed towards our troops again. They took off and we continued to watch them go by. The expressions on their faces as they saw us standing there like a couple of kids watching a show will live long in my memory. We started to load the guns in the plane and Nicol was sweating out taking off with so much weight. We tried it once with no luck so we had to throw out some of the guns. The second time we had better luck but there was a couple of seconds when we seriously doubted whether we'd ever be able to show our grand-children those pistols." (Lt.McWain, "A" Btry).
The next day we returned to the vicinity of our battle with the Von Clausewitz Division. We were amazed to notice that already the signs of our fierce battles were disappearing. Rumors, backed by a few facts, had us moving to Denmark very soon. The German Armies in Italy had surrendered the day the Russians had reached our sector of the Elbe, and the rest of the German Armies came tumbling after. Before the rumored movement could get underway, the Northern German Forces gave up, but we were kept alerted for movement towards Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile we established road-blocks in our area for the control of civilian movement and traffic. The enemy had surrendered in such numbers that it was a problem to handle them. Truck-loads of them would pass by, headed for the rear areas without any military guard. Many civilians, also fleeing the Russians, moved with the defeated army.
The European War was over. Germany had surrendered unconditionally. The day we'd all fought for, and longed for, had come. We observed no special ceremony in honor of the day but each of us felt thankful we'd come through alive and well, and in our hearts paid tribute to those who were not so fortunate.
Fire Mission 9
"IN WHICH WE SERVED"
5th ARMORED DIVISION Maj. Gen Lunsford E. Oliver
5th ARMORED DIVISION ARTILLERY Col. Douglas R. Page
COMBAT COMMAND A Brig. Gen. Eugene A. Regnier
COMBAT COMMAND B Col. John T. Cole
COMBAT COMMAND R Col. Glen H. Anderson
Lt. STANLEY W. HAUENSCHILD Sgt. JAMES D. HAILEY
Cpl. PATRICK A. PERSIKINI Cpl. JOHN W BERNS
ART and PHOTOGRAPHS
Lt. LESTER C. NAGLEY Jr Capt. LYNN C. FREDERICKSON
Lt. IRVING GERSTEIN Lt. WILLIAM S. MARTIN
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