HQ Company 41st Tank Battalion History
by Fred Sell
THE BIG PICTURE
We boarded the British troop transport Samaria from a pier opposite Madison Square Garden in the late afternoon of September 28th. As though our spirits were not low enough, it had to be a miserable, rainy day. With our packs, duffle bags, and weapons, most of us were about licked. I don't think that I ever appreciated the Red Cross more than I did when they gave us coffee and doughnuts on the pier before we boarded the ship.
I suppose like most of us, I had often wondered what my feelings would be as I walked up the gangplank. The only feeling that I remember having was, thank God, I would soon be able to get that pack off my back and rest. But first we had to struggle down several flights of stairs into the very bottom of the ship.
The ship! How shall I describe it? It got us safely across and I suppose I should feel grateful. But the ship was old, dirty, and smelly. Worst of all was the food. The only time I thought I was going to get seasick was the morning they served herring for breakfast. There were times when I wondered if we were going over to help England or fight her.
We put out to sea about 0430 the following morning and one day followed another with a sameness that became extremely monotonous. On the morning of the 10th of October we dropped anchor outside the harbor of Liverpool and stayed there until the following morning when we entered the harbor itself. At 0800 on the morning of the 12th we disembarked and marched through the streets of Liverpool to the railroad station. My glimpse of Liverpool was fleeting, and my chief impression was one of narrow streets and old buildings. As we walked along with full field equipment many of us felt the tears wet on our cheeks for the first time on foreign soil. Maybe it was because the women and children, who lined the streets to cheer us, were crying. Many of these people saw their loved ones walk off as soldiers, never to return. In us they saw their fathers, brothers, and husbands; in them we saw our loved ones silently praying for our return. We suddenly realized that we were no longer soldiers on maneuvers, but soldiers on the way, to crush and be crushed, to kill and be killed.
I was amused at first sight by the smallness of the English coaches but they turned out to be surprisingly comfortable. The trip through the English countryside was something that I had always looked forward to and I enjoyed it immensely. The neatness of the towns, the landscape, and the many little gardens impressed me. It seemed good that after so many years of war the English could still find time and room to grow some flowers.
That same evening we arrived at Warminster in Southwestern England and proceeded by bus to Longbridge Deverill. We were there only a little more than a week, but that gave us plenty of time to locate all the pubs in the neighborhood. The English beer was about as bad as I had expected, so warm and tasteless.
No one seemed sorry when we moved from 'Longnose Devericks' to Tilshead Barracks, twelve miles east of Warminster. We drew new vehicles and most of the time was spent getting them and us in shape for combat.
Von Rundstedt was sweating out preparations for his Christmas pass in Paris while we were sweating out passes to London. I've often wondered if the men who did not visit London realize their loss. Sgt. Bryant often said, 'It isn't worth going 60 miles to see.' I found a letter written by a GI who didn't get to see YE OLDE LONDON and who evidently felt it was worth traveling to the end of the earth. The letter itself is unfinished, as is the very life of the GI. It reads:
The majestic sounds which carried through the darkened streets suggested one source and the foreigner automatically strains to see through the fog what literally stands above all. Big Ben in its drab but stately appearance, shrouded with a cloak of lifetimes aching to tell the passerby to slow down. Instead she bongs out a rhythm in cadence with the over-burdened heart of an old man At the sight of Big Ben some mediation seemed in order but just as though 'sounds of might' dissolved into the night so did silence creep into the scene. The pitter patter of rain on the sidewalks of London aided though meditater until split seconds after all hell broke loose and amid the falling ruins I awoke safe and sound in what I call my bed. Yes darling, even after two weeks of planning I had to be satisfied with a dream but someday my chance will come and when it does I'll be the passerby, the meditator, the foreigner, only my thoughts will not be interrupted by Hitler's V-2s. No, darling, when I hear Big Ben, the war with be far in the past and with each stroke I'll cuddle closer to you.
On the day of the German breakthrough in Belgium we were alerted to move. As usual it was raining when we moved out on the morning of December 17th. We stayed overnight in Weymouth and the next morning boarded an LST, pushing off at 0730 on the 19th. Our luck held as the weather was perfect and the channel, which has been described as the roughest body of water in the world, remained calm for us. The cleanliness of the ship and the ''good food was of great contrast to the 'Samaria'.
Our invasion of the Cherbourg Peninsula was exciting even though we were in the one-hundredthsome wave. As our tanks roared from the mouth of LST 353 we felt like the THUNDERBOLTS. We were nicknamed.
Our original assignment was to keep in check or wipe out the Lorient pocket but the Nazi offensive was becoming a threat far greater than first realized. The 11th Armored Division was ordered on the double to the scene of the Battle of the Bulge. The vehicles were thrown in high gear; the rat race was only 84 miles of destroyed French countryside lay behind us after the first day of the road march. When we reached Falaise we were alerted for enemy paratroopers and learned that the Nazis had over-run VII Corps front and had spearheads 50 miles into our lines at some points. The race continued 75 miles closer on the 23rd; 122 miles on the 24th.
After Christmas dinner of turkey, and an introduction to the Luftwaffe we left Soissons, France, half-mad, half-scared, and half-frozen. The 550 miles of unsure French and Belgium roads were conquered and directly in our path were Rundstedt's shock troops, young, confident and tough. Yank magazine called them Germany's cream; we called the bastards.
There's something about that first day in battle, something it is hard to relate, something that always stays with you, inside, but can never be expressed in speech or script. It's like a nightmare the smog of smoke, fire, and death. Your stomach crowds your heart, your breathing comes in spasms. It's a combination of fear and hate, a combination that when present in an American soldier only tends to spur him on to ultimate victory. Inevitably must come very first sight of a casualty. Some say you get used to seeing the torn flesh of a soldier, but personally I think that few ever get used to seeing death as horrible as only WAR can make it.
I doubt if there is a man in the company who will ever forget NOSE. Nose the peep and Devericks the Nose. The peep was born in England. (If I were selling bonds I'd mention how the combined efforts of Mom. Dad, and Sis, on the home front assisted in the birth of Nose. I'm not selling bonds but that doesn't mean that we're not thankful to the folks back home. Ours would have been a lost cause without ARIZONA, MIAMI, TRI-STATE, GLORY, CHEROKEE STRIP, JAN, LIL, ALEC, MARTHA, NYOMO, and all the rest.) Yes, Nose was rightfully born in England. At 0400 on the 17th of December t944 in a torrent of rain, T/4 Estok with paint brush in hand, debated the name in question. Fifty minutes later Nose the peep was rolling over the hills of England with Devericks the Nose behind the wheel. The second ten minute necessity stop that morning, found Deverecks ready and eager to climb into the kitchen truck for a nap. Seeking diversion, yours truly took the wheel. Had I only known how humanly efficient Nose was destined to be, I would have released my grip on the wheel, and let Nose choose, upon sight of that fork in the road. The Company in front was out of sight—there were no tracks—and in a last minute of sweat I turned to Captain Wilkins. His quick thinking saved our Company and the rest of the Battalion from ending up in Tipperary, instead of Weymouth. In the days which were to follow, NOSE proved herself worthy of Headquarters and Headquarters Company. As Sergeant Bryant claims, and as Devericks and I will verify, Nose had a brain. Many times when an artillery barrage caught us alone, the only thing necessary was to jump, Nose would choke up to a dead stop on the side and wait for us. Ridiculous as this may sound it is true, for I quote one experience of Bryant's:
'When we were near Houffalize, Devericks and I had been traveling back and forth on the Bastogne-Houffalize Highway loading ammunition vehicles to though forward Assault Gun position. It was a treacherous, snow-covered road and Nose was always getting stuck in snow-drifts and ditches. She didn't come near getting stuck when the Krauts started throwing some heavy stuff at us. No Sir, Nose took off like a BAB and didn't know the meaning of STUCK till the mission was completed.'
In interesting connection with the human ability of Nose is the Easter Sunday experience Devericks and I encountered. We were following the Light Tank, as usual, when that rain of lead came in from both flanks. After we 'dropped' back to the Big Boys, we kept speeding between and around the tanks, seeking armored protection from the flying bullets. Suddenly Nose had a coughing spell and commenced to jerk the same as any peep will jerk when the accelerator is quickly depressed and released. One of those jerks moved us about half an inch from the path of one meant for us. It buried in the 510 Radio. Devericks could never figure out what happened. Perhaps the gas line was clogged, but we like to think Nose knew what was happening, and saved our lives. o
Our Mortar Platoon (popularly known as the stove pipe crew) played very important part in maintaining high morale. Having not one quarter as much armor protection as the tankers, they, as matter of necessity, and at every stop, began digging frantically into Mother Earth. The tankers seeing this, realized how lucky they were to have those great big tanks, even though they did make a hell of big target for 88's and Panzerfausts. In any event here is story—of the men and by the men of the Mortar Platoon:
'All we can say for the first day in combat is that some laundry concern's stock must have soared to a new height on that day. Why? Well, a few hours after being committed to battle, we entered the first town we had fought for. We had expected to enter it practically at the tail end of the column, but to our surprise, we found that we were one of the first groups. Even the infantry hadn't finished mopping up the place as Vigen, Weiting, Duncan, and BW, (as our platoon leader was affectionately called) found out. Imagine their surprise, when a machine gun opened up on them. In retrospect, it was one of the funniest scenes to witness You should hove seen those boys dive for the ground. Surely the entire German Army was surrounding us and getting ready for the kill. When lo and behold, who should stick their heads around our building (crouching like good soldiers, just finished reading training manual TM-00-MIAI) but Van, Hall, Ross, Quinn, and a few others. No doubt this was a gift from heaven. Now, those lowly rots, the Krauts, would get what was coming to them. After all, wasn't the Mortar Platoon practically all present and accounted for? (Even our o formation Vigen couldn't assemble such a quantity of men, let alone the superb quality of these men) like all good Horatio Alger stories, everything turned out all right (Editors note: Well what happened to the machine gun?) Previous to entering the town, all the squads got their first taste of enemy artillery barrage. I am sure that Von Rundstedt must have given specific orders to get the Mortar Platoon at all costs. No matter what he threw, he couldn't hit us, the bully. And that brings to an end the illustrious initiation to war for the Mortar Platoon. Oh before I forget, while all this was taking place, Alton Hall was seen walking down the road, calm as could be, with a package and some mail. He had one package delivered to him. A fountain pen. What a time, what a place, and what a package.
Not only did we hove Jerry to worry about but at times we of the Mortar Platoon had our friend, Shuman and his prescribed ways and means of keeping warm. The ingredients; take some increments, a half track, some gas, and a number of sleeping men. At 0200 you lay the groundwork. What happens after this can best be described by the events of that memorable night outside of Hemeroule. The men were asleep under the half-track. When it got hotter than Shuman expected and things got out of hand, his efforts to extinguish though flames roused those asleep. A new world's record was set by Elmer Sperbock in getting the fire extinguisher. (If you hove ever tried to pry loose a fire extinguisher in a half track you know what we mean). While everyone was busily engaged in extinguishing though fire, it was reported that John J. Kwoka just turned over and continued peacefully in the arms of Morpheus. Perhaps after the previous blastings of Jerry, John J. thought that he was entirely immune from any casualty that could be inflicted by his own men, Shuman included.
Many times we thought how unfair the original TE was to the members of a Mortar Platoon. There we were equipped with half-tracks, while the other members of though company rode around in the comparative safety of tanks. Who was responsible for this gross oversight? How we longed to have tanks, and live up to the true name of tankers. Then one day our smoke dreams came true, only to be blown away. For awhile we were happy, as the following proves. On this day in Bercheaux we were going along in our usual manner, the maintenance of our half-tracks, the cleaning of our weapons, and though normal amount of goldbricking. FLASH! The Mortar Platoon was going to replace their half-tracks with tanks. They were to arrive that afternoon. How we all looked forward to those tanks. Dreams cropped up. How our Iron Horses would charge along into the thick of battle and disperse the enemy. Something that would never happen with our half-tracks. We would show the skeptics what the Mortar Platoon could do. The tanks arrived. What matter if we received only three instead of four. The Headquarters squad would have to use the halftrack and Pignato would still have to push the buttons of his radio with only the protection of 3/8 inches instead of the 3 inches in a tank turret. The balance of the platoon industrially applied themselves to though task of preparing the tanks for the next operation. Time meant little to them at that moment. Thoughts of goldbricking vanished. Everyone chipped in painting, loading ammo, storing rations, learning though intricacies of the operation of the tank and running problems. All eager to learn as much as possible in such a short space of lime. Though order came out. We were moving the next day. Hurried last minute preparations. At last we were ready to roll. Everyone wont to sleep that night confident that the next day would show the true value of accomplishments of the Mortar Platoon. Dreaming heroic dreams of blazing a path for newer and greater victories for the Battalion. The next morning everyone was up bright and early; eager to be off. The Battalion moved out. On the march! Was the Mortar Platoon riding on the crest of happiness? Was the Mortar Platoon jubilant as they had been the day before? No, because one hour before moving out, we had to turn though tanks back. We were riding out to war, as usual, in our halftracks. Let us pause here for one moment to remember who boys who are not with us at the present. To a swell kid, Harold Ouinn. He was liked by everyone that was associated with him. He knew his duty and was always there when needed. On that morning of January 15th Jerry sent over a barrage, and while the furthermost thought in Harold's mind was to be a hero, he stuck to the radio. We lost a swell friend, that morning, Harold, the memory of your friendship will linger forever with us. And to you other boys, Hayes, Waldrup, Swensrud, Woiting, Taub and Slossar, we often think of you and wish you the best of luck.
Our Reconnaissance Platoon, in the heat of battle itself always found something to laugh about, but they couldn't help it. Almost everything they did was humorous. After a little persuasion George Harris consented to relate a few stories:
'This little incident happened on the second or third day of battle while the Recon Platoon was acting as flank security for the Battalion. Our half-track and peeps had advanced cross country until we were opposite a small town that the infantry should have taken some hours earlier. Instead of greeting dough Boys we were greeted by Kraut thirty-one caliber. Two of the peeps were pinned down and the occupants were underneath them. They weren't performing first echelon either) We in the half-track were busy firing at anything we could see and a lot that wasn't in sight. We called for help and some tanks from A Company came to see what they could do to aid us. I was using my carbine, Kirk was struggling with though Filty, and Kratz and Colabrese were having target practice with their M-1s. I sighted on a house that looked like it might have sheltered some of the krauts, aimed for a window, and pulled the trigger. When I opened my eyes after the explosion the building lay in ruins. It seems a Sherman opened up on it with a 75MM and I gave credit for an assist.
Our first day in battle was not so humorous. We had led the separate companies up to the line of departure and there wasn't much left to do with the exception of dodge shells. All of our vehicles (Recon's) were parked on a hillside and we were watching the battle unfold before us, just interested spectators. Occasionally an 88 round would burst in the fields before us, but they were of no concern to us at the lime. The thing that we failed to notice about them was the fact that each one came about a hundred yards closer our to position. I was listening to the radio and some of the boys were standing to the rear of the half-track batting the breeze when one of the 88s whistled over our heads and landed about 20 yards away. The concussion knocked Fry, Kratz, Scott, and Parkhurst to the ground. Scott and Parkhurst were wounded in the legs by shrapnel. A shower of dirt descended on the halftrack and the noise an dirt caused me to jump from the vehicle and search for better protection. It was then I noticed though full picture and started over to help. Neither Scott nor Parkhurst were seriously injured but it seems ironical that after all the months of training they should be put out of action on the first day without an opportunity to fire a shot. Meanwhile Lt. Justice had ordered our vehicles away from the crest of this hill as the Krauts were making it fairly hot. As we drove back to the other side the hill, the stuff came in there, however we made it safely into the town of Houmont taken earlier in the morning. In the evening we rejoined our Battalion where we assumed the duties of CP guard. The sidewalk in front of the Charlie Peter was our bed for the night. It seemed colder than usual when we crawled out of those Bed Rolls the morning of December 30th. Captain Wilkins designated me as his messenger. This was much to my delight although many times later I wished I hadn't done it. Nose's radio was kaput and I guess for that reason everything seemed so confused to me. Weaving through those snow drifts between the tanks trying to keep up with Old Man, was a tough job for Nose, but Nose was just as excited as were we. We had no artillery support even though the Krauts were giving us plenty and we were getting a taste of those damnable 88's. As we plowed through the snow past Curls tank I waved and yelled hello. That was a hell of a place to say hello, much less wave. The Assault and Mortar Platoons were dispersed on a forward slope of the high ground West of Lavaselle as the COs half-track edged forward and Nose followed. From the left flank three tracks of 21st Infantry doughs pulled up within spitting distance. They dismounted and made their way across the cold white snow. In the same amount of time it takes a machine gun to spit 30 or 40 slugs and before we knew what had happened, five American doughs coughed blood simultaneously. Captain Wilkins sent me back for the Medics. Nose headed cross country, hit the road, and picked up the scent. We found Lt. Marzano running from one GI to another administering first aid while the Krauts actually POURED the Mortars in on that road. T'wasn't real heavy stuff. They made a hole about as big as the kind you always see Whitlock digging. Lt. Marzano was certainly far too busy so we moved on and completed our circle, finding an Ambulance about a hundred yards from where we started. Everybody had moved out and as the Medics went to work, Devericks and I started looking for the Old Man. After much difficulty we finally ran across a rough circle of tanks to the left of which we spotted the gleaming Captain bars. Henrie Allen, our mail clerk, spent most of his time in the Old Man's track and here's his story:
"Sometimes I wonder how our halt-track missed it that first day. The Old Man was just like he always was and didn't want to miss a trick. He took us right up among the tanks with artillery and mortars falling all around us, but our luck held. I can still hear Bedgood saying Sir, don't you think we had better move?' It amused me when Captain Wilkins lost his helmet. He was out the half-track and as an artillery barrage came in he made a dive or the ditch. His helmet came off and was promptly run over by tank. He looked as near sheepish when he came back to the track as I ever saw the old Man. I think our crew was very lucky that he soon got a light tank to use and we didn't have to take the track into such exposed positions.
We know Allen, and we also know that he spent most of his time in that track, comfortably propped up, smoking cigars, and reading a week old Stars and Stripes.
Remember the look of surprise on Lt. Warren's face when he jumped out of his track rubbing his hands together like he was trying to keep warm and swing a deal at the same time! Although I don't remember his exact words, he said something like—Ah! Here's a good place for a fox hole. We thought he was having a fit what with all the commotion he went through to get his Carbine in firing position. However, we realized why, when those two Krauts came from their machine gun nest in the brush. Weiting held them at bay with his M-1 while Lt. Warren searched them. Devericks and I had one hell of a time getting them back to the cage alive but they may have had information we needed. So what if they weren't in good condition, they could still talk.
The next day the enemy made a light counterattack which was quickly repelled. Our artillery was then organized and kept the enemy pinned down while we moved the bivouac one mile from Houmont. Allen says:
I shall never forget this place where we spent New Year's Eve. Bedgood, Lands and I slept in slit trenches around some apple trees near the Charlie Peter. During though night a horse came nosing around and almost fell in on Bedgood. I sure could have used a little New Year's cheer that night. It was here too, that the Charlie Peter was hit on New Year's Day. It was the only building standing. I was cleaning my carbine in one end of the room when the shell struck in the other and where the officers were. As I looked back, the Colonel looked pretty comical as he came tearing out that door but I was too scared at the time to appreciate the humor. Fortunately the round was AP and no one was hurt.'
From Maintenance we have an article by Sgt. Estok and Pvt. Stevens entitled 'On the ball Maintenance.' I quote:
'On the hour of 1830 the order came down, 'Boys, we are moving up.' We swallowed our Adams Apple about three times I think, because we knew that our destination, the town of 'Monty', had been a hot spot all that day and things were still plenty warm there. While we were waiting for the zero hour, Sgt. Estok and Captain Smith (Lt. Smith then) were making a reconnaissance of company vehicles. On this check it was found that one of the Mortar halftracks was not in condition to move, due to the fact that one front tire had a shrapnel hole in it. It was quite a spot for the maintenance boys then, because there were no spare tires available, and the tire had to be replaced almost immediately. Our only solution was to remove the tire from the Maintenance halftrack, so the task was done.
We arrived at our destination a little late, but not too late to experience the fire works that seemed to have started as we pulled in. It seemed as if everything the enemy had was being thrown at us and don't ask what direction it was coming from, for it seemed to us like a cloud burst. Alter sweating in that sub-zero weather, when we speak of sweating, we really mean sweating, for in about forty-live minutes we were informed that we were spending the night there. We swallowed our Adam's apple a couple more times. In a situation like this a person doesn't have to be told to dig in, it is an automatic thought. The way everybody was hustling to get his fox-hole dug was quite a sight to see. Maintenance Sgt. Slevens, Sgt. Tassis, and Cpl. Sauber were swinging picks and shovels like old veterans and Sgt. Estok, Cpl. Phol, and Cpl. Meyers were nervously awaiting their turn while standing guard. I believe this happens to be the first time that Cpl. Sauber has a complete knowledge of the use of a shovel. After this fine cooperation our progress was very and somewhat discouraging. The next morning we found out that we had been trying to dig our fox hole in an old road bed. This was the night that Sgt. Tassie made the decision of whether it was better to take chances of the enemy shells or kill himself digging in this hard, frozen road. Eventually we all came to the same conclusion, so under the halftrack was our protection for the rest of the night. The next morning when things were more quiet, we finally picked up enough nerve to venture from under the half-track to check for better protection. About sixty feet from our vehicle and the place we had been digging, we found already prepared slit trenches. Most of us were still banging our heads against the wall for not being for fortunate enough to find such shelter when it was most needed. This experience brings out many laughs now, but it certainty was not a laughing matter then.
That same day we launched an attack on Mande-St.Etienne which was halted by darkness. The next morning the town was taken after heavy fighting. The Battalion moved into the town after dark and we had snipers and artillery keeping us awake the entire night. This stands out in my mind as one of the most miserable nights in my life. As well as the enemy action we had to combat cold which was almost unbearable. That day (January 3rd) the Battalion was relieved by the 17th Airborne Division. (Duffy says that was the best day of 1945). We had accomplished our first mission of cutting the main road leading west from Bastogne, and we had done it in four days instead of the fourteen which had been allotted.
Our casualties in the Company had not been heavy, although they had been heavy in B and C Companies. Parkhurst and Scott stopped a couple 88 fragments and Wieting was marked up as battle fatigue. When I first saw Wieting being helped into that six by six, I thought he had been hit, and when I went over to talk to him, he didn't recognize me. Every time a shell would burst, he would double up in agony. His wasn't a bad case of shell shock. He was just tired and his insides tightened until they must have snapped. Swensrud and Silla were also evacuated for battle fatigue.
Bercheaux was a peaceful little village, humble as it was. It had all the makings of home and that was what we were looking for most of all. The first few nights of artillery flashes in the distance kept reminding us that there was still a war, but after that we relaxed so completely that War was dismissed from our minds. Fred Berry was evacuated on January 4th with frozen feet and Vannani was evacuated with a bad knee. We never did see Vannani again. Seems as though a small piece of shrapnel lodged in his knee infecting that part of his anatomy. Eddie Kucharski was still in the hospital recovering from a broken arm he received when his tank turned over. Eddie laid there, pinned under the back deck, with gas splashing in his face, and all he had to say about it was: 'Well, I just stuck to the tank like a Captain to his ship.'
The morning of January 9th started out just like any other morning with the dark gradually working into the light of the day, everybody struggling out of their Bag, sleeping, Ml, and Sgt. Bryant having the usual difficulty arousing the few sleepy heads, including myself. Breakfast around the six by six and then the short but reluctant walk to the Motor Park. After working a bit on their tanks, Curl, Finnerty, Rosen, and Estok gathered around a bonfire. Fate played a lonely hand in that someone failed to notice an 88 MM casing. The boys who gathered to get warm didn't see it either, but they heard and felt it. Curl and Finnerty suffered shrapnel wounds about the body, Estok had his face cut up a bit and Rosen with a broken leg, never rejoined us. It was in Bercheaux that the first Bronze Star Medal was awarded to a man in our Company. Brigadier General Kilburn pinned the Bronze Star on Sergeant Miller at a parade held on the impromptu parade grounds at Bercheaux. The citation reads:
'For bravery in action, sergeant Clifford B. Miller, Hq and Hq Co 4tst Tank on 1 January 1945 near Brohl, Belgium observed that the attached Infantry was suffering numerous casualties from two German Mortars. Sergeant Miller volunteered to move forward from a defiladed position to fire upon the enemy mortars. It was necessary to move across open terrain which was known to be covered by anti-tank guns 1000 yards to his front. Sergeant Miller directed his crew in such a manner as to destroy the enemy mortars and at the same time so maneuvered his tank in such a manner that tank and crew returned safely to a defiladed position. By his courage, leadership, and initiative he contributed to saving the lives of many men.
Sitting in the warm comfort of their billets in Bercheaux, the officers were talking over past actions. 'Now you take Mr. Sutcliffe', Lt. Grayson was heard to say, 'he was the world's finest cook in a tank. He had the uncanny ability to be able to make good coffee on the move without spilling a drop down my back.' But Mr. Sutcliffe liked to do things in a big way, outside the field of cookery. On the outskirts of Brohl he was ordered to fire the machine gun at the woods to flush out any Krauts hiding there. Instead, he let go with the 105 but the only damage was a bruised elbow by Lt. Grayson and pulverized tree. As soon as the dust cleared away, there were four Krauts walking towards the tank from the woods with their hands in the air.
Some of the boys were recalling their baptism to fire when Sergeant Morris related the following, I quote:
'How well I can remember the first day of combat Lt. Grayson had called us together and told us we were to attack that morning and the quotation that most of us remember best of all was when he said, 'This will be the longest day of your life.' We soon found out what he meant We started off down the road like we were going on another road march and then suddenly Lt. Grayson said, 'Follow my tank of to the left of the road. We ended up in a line formation on the crest of the hill and that is where we realized our first taste of enemy fire. The Krauts must have had that spot zeroed in, because we caught plenty of Artillery fire and you can bet your 'boots' that those hatches flew shut, and inside the tanks plenty of praying was in progress. The Germans were not without competition because we soon got our first real combat firing mission and it sounded pretty good to hear those good ole six guns going off at the same time. We were soon in the need of ammunition so Lt. Grayson asked me to go down to the company C.P. and see that the boys down there were getting the ammo out of the boxes ready to bring up to our position. Well, I jumped out of the tank and behind me was a tank from Charlie Company that had been knocked out, plus some Infantry boys that were digging in because of the heavy artillery lire that was coming in. I had about 1000 yards to go check on the ammo I started to double time so I could hurry up the ammo if possible. With the artillery fire falling all around, I finally made it to the C. P. I looked for somebody and lo and behold, there was no one in sight I Then I proceeded to look around, the first place was under a half-track and there was Fred Berry, William Bedgood, and Allen, all of them had that uncomfortable feeling expressed in their faces. I must admit that Allen seemed to be taking life easy because he was smoking a cigar and he and I snickered a little at the way the other boys were taking it. About that time Captain Wilkins came out of the house and asked me what I wanted and I told him about the ammunition. He had the boys load up the track with some but before I go any farther, I want to mention that 'PAPA' Lands was also around there at the time I asked Allen where everybody was, and he told me to take a look around for Lands, so I stepped in front of the vehicle and there I saw nothing but the soles of somebody's shoes slicking out of the top of a one man fox hole. They belonged to no one else but ole 'PAPA', that really made me laugh, it seemed funny to me to see him head-first in that hole. Later, ho told me ho just did not have time to get in here any other way when the first round came near the C. P. and that he was not going to move until everything was quiet again.'
Leaving Bercheaux was not easy for we had made some dear friends. In our hours of loneliness, the citizens of Bercheaux took us in and made us as comfortable as possible. One woman had her two daughters sing for us every evening end another baked us a cake. Then there was Nellie's poppa who gave his rabbits away, one by one, to the 'American Soldiers. We had liberated them from the Boche, but now we had another job and in the dark, cold, earliness of January 13th we waved goodbye.
We moved to an assembly area two' miles North of Bastogne. An attack was launched on Foy end Cobru and our objective was taken after heavy fighting. On the 16th of January we attacked the high ground northeast of Noville. We took our objective and dug in. It was here that we missed Bedgood and didn't learn that he had been evacuated by the 81st Medics until a day or so later It seems he was trying to get off a tank in a hurry when some artillery came over, and in his haste fell, hurting his back. Again our casualties were very low and we were beginning to wonder how long our luck would last.
At one place on the outskirts of Hoffalize, McCoy, Sommers, end Ruggles had dug a three man fox-hole and crawled in for the night. Sommers was in the middle and got up at an un-Godly hour during the night to stand guard. While he was up, the Germans sent over a barrage of 'screaming meemies'. Ruggles and McCoy were startled when something crashed down between them and were too scared to turn around, thinking it was a dud. Both of them thought the pearly gates or the brimstone pit were opened to them. Their reactions were not recorded when someone said, Thanks for the use of your hole, and got up from between them,
The 101st Airborne Division relieved us on the 17th and we moved beck to Hemoroule, Belgium for another recuperative period. At the end of three uneventful days in Hemoroule, we pulled stakes and assembled one mile east of Noville. Readying ourselves for the attack next morning, we found that the Krauts had retreated from the objective and our orders to attack were revoked. We stayed there in the field while history was being made. Down in Houffalize, elements of our division met the 2nd Armored Division of the First Army to close the jaws of the pincers on the withdrawing German Forces. THE BULGE WAS CUT.
There were many smiling, happy faces the next morning. We were going back to Bercheaux. Lt. McCormley joined our company as the Assault Gun Platoon Leader. Coming from the 490th Field Artillery where he was a forward observer, Lt. McCormley took the place of Lt. Grayson who had left us to command Baker Company.
February 7th, 1945 found us making our way across the Belgian-Luxembourg border into Binsfeld. Our mission there was to guard the southern flank of the VIII Corps. The roads were very unsuitable for moving armor and the job immediately ahead was that of breaching the Siegfried Line which was a job principally for the Infantry. The Reconnaissance Platoon had on outpost at Peterskirche. From Peterskirche, looking across the Our River you could see the pill boxes with Krauts running around doing their daily chores. One day two of them walked down to the river bank, and started to swim across with the intention of surrendering but damn near drowned. The Recon boys on post at the time borrowed an Engineer's boat and picked them up. With the exception of this and the fact that a couple of deserted Kraut soldiers were picked up wearing civvies, our stay in Binsfeld was uneventful. We were billeted in a house that must have been used for sorting propaganda leaflets. Those Krauts were certainly clever in the layout of their propaganda. Most of us gathered up our share of 'souvenir leaflets' laughed 'em off and sent 'em home when censorship was lifted. One was left floating around here and it is reproduced on the following page. On February 18th, instead of a birthday cake I had a doughnut (and believe me it was good) from the Red Cross Clubmobile. It was the second time the girls served us and it seemed as though they followed us right through, even though they did have a little trouble keeping up at times.
During our stay in Binsfeld there was a change in the Company staff. Lt. Smith was transferred to Service Company and Lt. Bailey replaced him as maintenance officer.
We left Binsfeld, crossed the Our River at Peterskirche, marched twenty-five miles through belts of the Siegfried Line and bivouacked east of Houthein, Germany. Bright and early on the 3rd of March we pulled out with the Battalion and moved into attack position across the Prum River. The next few days are recorded in the First Sergeant's records as follows:
4 Mar. 45—Bn attacked et 1200 over heavily mined area. Stevenson returned to duty. Set up position east of Wellershiem, Germany.
5 Mar 45—Did not attack today because bridgehead could not be secured. Location same. Weather cold and rainy. No casualties.
6 Mar. 45— Attacked northeast of objective at Obr Bettingen, Germany. Opposition light, but terrain muddy as hell. No casualties.
We crossed the Kyll River at Obr Bettingen, Germany and I remember it was about this time that we had been getting reports to the effect that German women were being captured along the fronts. It wasn't long till we found this to be true for our Recon Platoon caught a few who were more arrogant than feminine. Rather than have an extra guard this particular night, Captain Wilkins gave me the two Krauts whom he had persuaded to quit just an hour before. Riding along in that peep, toward the PW cage in the city of Prum, was almost unbearably cold but I occupied myself trying to determine the sex of our prisoners. The longer I looked at the little guy, the bigger his breast looked, but at the cage we found him to be just another Superman. The objective was taken March 7th and we were ordered into a new sector. As soon as we reached this new front we started using the Advance Guard formation.
The advance guard consisting of two or three Shermans, a Reconnaissance platoon, A line company, the Colonel or Task Force Commanders tank in the advance guard, a forward observer's tank and Lt. McCormley observing for our Assault Guns. After the advance guard came the balance of the battalion. When the Advance Guard ran into anything too big to handle, they were backed up by the main body. If a town was defended, all vehicles fanned off the road into firing position and blasted it up a bit. If the town was too big or we were in more of a hurry than usual, we'd blow it up on the way through. As a result of this blitzing through Germany, death and destruction lined the roads in our wake. Knocked out and abandoned German vehicles covered the roads and fields. Then the Krauts started their wholesale surrenders. The roads were jammed with tired of war Krauts. We counted them by the thousands. After three days of pushing the war into Germany, we stopped for a breather in Burgbrohl on the Rhine. Staff Sergeant Cunningham found a German motorcycle and went off for a little joy ride. He never came back. We learned later that he was in the states recovering from wounds received when he encountered a couple of snipers.
A German General was reported trying to organize some resistance around a lake near Burgbrohl, so the Battalion sent a task Force out to check it. Our Recon platoon ran across a German Hospital liberating two Gl's, one of whom was too sick to move. He was from the 4th Division. The other boy was from Pennsylvania, of the 17th Airborne Division. He told how he was captured the day after his outfit relieved us at Mande St. Etienne. The Krauts threw a Panzer Division against the 17th Airborne, following up the counter-attack they made on our last night there.
This particular night the Reconnaissance Platoon's mission was to find a route out of the town in a general direction of the following day's objective. Lt. Justice started out in one peep and Sergeant Van Aken followed in another, but the peeps became separated, and Lt. Justice continued the mission alone. At one spot he came across a GI half-track parked in the middle of the road, completely blocking it. Muttering to himself about the ability of drivers and the damn fool places they pick to park, he went on foot up to the half-track to get it moved, but quick. When he got to the door, he noticed a swastika crudely painted on the side. From the interior came sounds of people sprinkling the Dutch." This was all he needed to know, so he did an about face and started tiptoeing back to the peep, Signaling for the peep to be turned around, the driver, PFC Toomey, misunderstood and put the peep into first. Lt. Justice got to the peep before it ran into the half-track and got Toomey straightened out as to the direction he was to go. They disappeared in a cloud of dust and found a safer road to prowl around at night.
On the 18th we reached Rochenhausen and the following day, Kirn. The night the Battalion pulled into Kirn, most of the boys in the Company wandered around the town requisitioning whatever their hearts desired. PFC. Johnson went scouting into a cellar in search of something liquid, anything but water. He found instead, a couple of Germans hiding and took them prisoner. After thinking it over, he realized that if he took them now it would mean guarding them all night or driving them back to the PW cage. He told them to stay there till 0700 the next morning and warned, If you show your damn heads before then, I'll blow them off. Johnson went to sleep and at exactly 0700 the next morning there they were, emerging from the cellar with their hands in the air.
Some of the boys in the Assault Platoon were having their troubles that night also. Here's the way Pirtle tells it:
'This little incident happened one night on the outskirts of a small town by the name of Kirn, Germany. It seemed as though the town was rather crowded so the Assault Gun Platoon was forced to move out taking up a position on a high hill to defend the town. Sergeant Adams, being last to move up in line as usual, was forced to knock down a tree in order to lay his gun parallel. We had though good fortune of meeting up with a couple of Frenchmen who had a truck loaded with wine. Everyone took advantage of the opportunity of getting his share of the wine, some getting more than their share. Well as the story goes on, it fell to someone's misfortune to go after the gas trains and bring them back to gas up the tanks. It was my luck to have to go on a very dark night. My faithful car commander, Louis Szarek and I took off, Szarek tolling the boys that we were going on a suicide mission. We reached the town safely, waited around until two o'clock in the morning for the trucks to come from the Gas Dump. At last we started back, Szarek and I leading the convoy. A case of the blind leading the blind. We went nearly 500 yards and then off the road into a ditch we land. I caught the leading truck, leaving Szarek behind with the Half-track to wait until I returned with the gas trucks. I took the trucks on up to though tanks and the platoon filled the tanks with gas. So we start back to where Szarek and the half-track were. Upon arriving, I find a full crew with the track, but another look and I found that three of them were Krauts with their hands high over their heads. Szarek had captured them with only an O. D. blanket in his hand. The prisoners were armed with Schmeisers. As we were convinced that they were part of a patrol, we questioned them and find that they aren't qualified for a job as a member of the crew, so we load them on the trucks and send them back to the PW cage, and so this ends my story.'
and from Bostick:
After a long tiresome day we were ordered to go into the town of Kirn. Well, all of us were pretty tired and thirsty so when we hit the town we took advantage of the column stop. Sgt. Miller and Pfc. Burnworth dismounted and started looking for something to drink. They saw a light coming from a cellar window so naturally they investigated. It was a room divided by a cloth curtain and the light was coming from the unexplored side of the curtain. As they started to part the curtain a German Officer stepped out (just about scaring Miller and Burnworth to death) and in very good English said 'I surrender'. Burnworth was not armed and Miller had a Luger in his coat. Al the while Miller was puffing and sweating and tugging for all his best to get the Luger from his coat. The Kraut calmly waited for Miller to got the drop on him, then motioned to where his pistol was resting. Just when another German Officer stepped from behind the curtain and for a while Miller wondered how long this would continue. In any event all was under control and the two Kraut Officers were turned over to Davidson who watching as road guide at the time. No they didn't find anything to drink there.'
Captain Wilkins found a ford across the Kirn river southeast of Kirn. All the bridges were blown, so a small force was sent across that night. The rest of us forded the river the next morning and pushed through town after town, destroying some completely. Those not defended were spared the fate their sister towns encountered. We raced on to within three miles of Worms and had quite a battle with the Luftwaffe. They must have been celebrating something or other, for that was the largest number of German planes we had so far seen at one time. We touched the Rhine for the second time without crossing it when we entered Worms that day. The business section of Worms was completely in ruins although the residential section where we stayed was almost untouched. It was evidently the wealthy section of the city, and we were living in Park Avenue style. The wine and champagne flowed freely. If you couldn't find a man boxing up his souvenirs, you'd be sure to find him flowing with the wine. I've often wondered what impression we left on Lt. Borchardt when he joined our company here.
Came the dawn of March 25th and we drew back to Frammershiem, Germany for a maintenance break. Sergeant Bryant went to the Riviera for a rest, and we rested over Hot Cakes at every breakfast.
The morning of the 29th came too soon for some, not soon enough for others. In the dark, drizzly dawn our tanks made their way to the banks of the Rhine for the third time, only now we didn't stop. Under a smoke screen at Oppenheim we crossed on a Ponton bridge while north of us at Remagen, General Hodges poured his troops across the bridgehead which was then substantially established. We drove straight east through Darmstadt and then turned in a Northerly direction and crossed the Main River near Hanau. Spending the night at an abandoned Kraut airdrome and pulled out the following morning at 0630, moving very slow because of some map trouble. We kept rolling through town after town. There were white flags flying, there were people in the streets and everything looked rosy. Once in a while we had to knock down a town or two. It was on March 3tst that the Advance Guard started through a town where white flags were flying. There were no people in the streets and it looked fishy. The lead vehicle was hit, and a Recon squad wiped out. Our Assault Guns helped level that town. After leaving Hauswatz in shambles, we continued on to Fulda. Here the Old Man was killed while on a reconnaissance. John Duffy who rode the Light
Tank as bow-gunner gives the following account:
'Though Old man went over to Major Hoffman's tank to get instructions for a mission he volunteered for. He came back and soon we were rolling down the road into Fulda with Belonger's peep right behind us. Belonger was along in though peep, Lt. Borchardt having had another mission at the time. We went through the outskirts OK but when we reached a sharp right turn in the road there was a bazooka man hiding behind a tree. I saw the familiar blunt nose of the German bazooka just before he fired it. The first one was a bad shot. It hit a tree limb just in front, and high of the tank. Sniper fire opened up and one got the Old Man right through the heart. T/4 Berry took command and ordered us to back out just as the second bazooka fired. It too, was a bad shot for it hit another tree limb. Belonger ran behind a house and left his peep in the road. We hit it when we backed up the tank We also ran slam against a tree. Berry couldn't talk to Hernandez, who was driving, because his helmet and earphones were blown off by the explosion of the first bazooka. Finally we did get the tank back to an open space on our left and made a left about turn. We barrel-assed back to the Battalion on the hill but it was too late for Captain Wilkins. He was dead. Belonger made his way back to an A Company tank and was told to go back and get his peep. He did, and for this he got the Bronze Star. Berry too was awarded the Bronze Star, when he came back from the hospital, for getting us out of there. I've never thanked God so many times for only one thing but it was only through His good graces that I'm here today. To show you what I mean, we counted all the bullet marks around the turret and they numbered above twenty."
And then, here is Belonger's own story of FULDA when no one was sure what would happen next, especially Belonger:
'I was ordered to follow Captain Wilkins' tank while Lt. Borchardt who was riding with me, left my peep and went on another mission. I followed the tank over a ridge and down the main road into Fulda. We made a sharp right turn into town and after advancing a couple of hundred yards a bazooka round was fired at the tank. It made a loud explosion and I didn't know exactly what it was or where it landed. I cut the ignition, and dove headlong for a ditch with the Luger that I had been holding in my hand, even while driving. Not that I was afraid of anything, but now know why the army issue OD underwear. I could feel the bullets whizzing over me as I dove for the ditch and made my way to the back of a house. By this time the tank had succeeded in backing up near my position. I could see the machine gun bullets ricochet off the tank. When they stopped the tank to pick me up I saw Captain Wilkins slump forward, dead. Because of increased fire the tank was forced to leave without me and return to the battalion position. I made my way out of the town on toot and sure was glad to see 'A' Company tanks pulling up to the ridge overlooking the town. I told my story to Captain Scott and he opened fire on the town for about fifteen minutes and then told me it was safe to get my peep, as he was going to support me with machine gun fire. I worked my way down into the town again by crawling through shell holes and hiding behind trees, and took refuge in a shell hole in town. While I was in the hole the firing from A Company ceased and all was quiet except for the roar of the tank engines. I heard the tanks leaving but was under the impression that they were going to encircle the town and enter from the other side. After two hours of waiting in complete silence, I again worked my way up to he ridge to see what the hell was going on. Nothing was in sight, of interest to me, not even one Gl. So there was CCB (combat command Belonger), all by himself. Then I shook the mud out of the barrel of my Luger and went further up the ridge to se it I couldn't see at least one lone tank to keep me company. I remember that I limped as I went past a Kraut hospital so they wouldn't take advantage of a poor, wounded soldier, although I hung on to my Luger just in case. Still, nothing was in sight so I went back into town. I went into an air-raid shelter and requisitioned a couple of Krauts to accompany me to make certain of a sate journey to my peep. The peep was conveniently turned around, but some lousy Kraut had looted it. With a prayer, it started, and I drove it out of town without any further trouble except that my folding cot was lost making that first corner out of Fulda. I rejoined the battalion and the rest of the boys were glad to see me as they would have had to pull ten minutes extra guard `apiece if I hadn't shown up.
We pulled out of Fulda and advanced over a different route to Grobenluder, Germany. We had been riding high in spirits throughout this big drive but now things weren't the same. We left the life of our Company Commander in Fulda, but the memory of his honest and fair leadership will never be forgotten by his men.
At 0640 Easter Sunday our vehicles roared onto the road and into formation. We contacted the enemy at approximately 0815 in the vicinity of Michelsrombach. The column had stretched well into Germany and was now running the risk of being cut off. There was heavy enemy resistance all the way to Kaltensundheim which we reached about 1430. At 1500 we set up a Charlie Peter in the town and spent the rest of Easter Sunday counting up the narrow escapes we experienced that day. The Krauts played a little trick on us but they suffered in the long run. The road shoulders were lined with what appeared to be dead Germans. After we were well into this ambush, the Krauts staged a little show, however they were unable to give an encore. We changed magazines more than twice and had a first class target practice at the expense of some brainless Nazi's.
Setting our watches one hour ahead, we left Kaltensundheim, Germany April 2nd, and proceeded to Wasungen, where the bridges across the Werra River were blown. After the C P was set up, some of us wandered around and found a rehabilitation center for Italian prisoner's of war. Several were suffering from malnutrition. It was cold and it was raining the next morning. The engineers were not quite finished even though they worked all night. Finally at 0930 we crossed the pontoon treadway over the Werra and cautiously felt our way to within three miles of Oberhol. We were casually informed that our Battalion was now the farthest point of Allied advance on the entire Western Front. Our nearest Infantry support was approximately seventy miles behind, having a big time cleaning out the pockets of SS-men we bypassed. These pockets inflicted some heavy casualties on the rear of CCB's column, which our Battalion was spearheading. The chief's of many Nazi governmental bureaus were reported to have moved into the Oberhof Area. Hitler himself was said to have been among them. We learned later that Von-Rundstedt left Oberhof two hours before we arrived. Our orders were to sit tight so we did just that. I found some cherry, brandy, the like of which I -have never before or since, had the pleasure of drinking. While most of us were in Oberhof, the Assault Gun Platoon was to guard our rear from a position 3 miles west. This lasted only one day when some Infantry caught up and took over the guarding job. Nevertheless here is a summary of the time on Cold Knob. by Sergeant Morris:
'We had just finished our Easter celebration by accounting for many useless Krauts on bicycles during our chase to Oberhof. Major Hoffmann was in charge of the advance guard and he had found a place for his Charley Peter close to the fawn, which was down in the valley, ahead of the position we were to be set up in, along with Charlie and Baker Company. Soon the rest of the battalion came along and they moved into the town with he main body. Major Hoffman then moved his group into town with the Colonel and that let us to guard the town while the rest of the battalion was billeted in houses. While some guys were set up in warm houses the rest of us had to weather the snow and cold up on that mountain, but then this was war. That night the doughboys that had set up outposts (listening posts) and were hauling plenty of Krauts out of the woods all around us. I want to give a lot of credit to the mess sections of Charlie and Baker Company for braving the cold, and possibility of snipers attacking them, while they stayed up there to feed the men on the mountain. It was no place for a helpless kitchen crew and not a member of either section chose to go into town to spend the night even though they certainly hod many opportunities to do so. They weren't able to serve till the next morning, and they didn't have extra rations to feed us with, but they stretched what they had and all of us got as much to eat as any member of their company.'
The night before we moved the Charley Peter to Karl Walther's home our CP Guard brought in a civilian with a story which he excitedly related to Lt. Borchardt. Seems as though this civilian was the proprietor of some hunting lodge about five miles into no-man's land, and two SS-Officers were drinking his alcohol and planning on staying in his place overnight. Being a GOOD GERMAN, he wanted to report them so that we could pick them up. Lt. Borchardt, fearing that this civilian wasn't a member of the - Johnson Family, promptly took him to Battalion Headquarters where the Kraut was sent to a PW cage and Lt. Borchardt was chewed out because our outpost guards didn't catch him making his way into town. Next morning although it was a top secret, we were getting ready to plunge into the National Redoubt Area toward Berchtesgaden. April 7th ended with us in the vicinity of St. Bernardt, Germany, 31 miles from Oberhof. On the 8th we moved south to Phersdorth where we were promised a 36 hour maintenance period. After five replacements joined our Company we made a 22 mile push to Weisenfeld. I remember very clearly how T/4 Slaughter was wounded. Acting as first gadget, I followed the Light Tank with Devericks and Nose. Lt. McCormley called Fire Mission and the Assault Gun and Mortar Platoons went into position off the road side. Devericks and I doubled the column back to Service Company and lead a six by six of 105 to where it would do the most good. While the Assault Guns were waiting the fire order, Devericks snoozed away on the backdeck of Sergeant Morris' tank, and I commenced to wheedle some rations from Morris and Guidry. After some tall talking they finally gave me a can of stew. I heard the fire order from Lt. McCormley as I climbed into Parton's warm bog seat. Slaughter was carrying a round of 105 when the battery fired one round. His gun was not at minimum elevation and the round hit some wires. I heard Morris yell, SIaughter's hit, and I climbed from the bog and saw that the Medics had the situation well in hand. Almost the entire Assault and Mortar Platoons plus the Medics were in bursting radius, still that hot twisting metal spared all but one.
As we sat in Weisenfeld, waiting the history of the surrender of Coburg was in the making. Coburg was now the focal point of German attempts to slow our advance. The manpower available consisted chiefly of the 12th Panzer Grenadier Repl. Bn. which conducted field training in the vicinity of the city. For several days units of this large battalion of approximately 1000 men had been sent forward from Coburg to defend the approaches to the city. It is believed that approximately 400 men remained within Coburg until the night of April 10 when all officers of this battalion quit their posts leaving the men to shift for themselves. The outlying defense of the city disintegrated, chiefly, because of the low morale of the troops. The reasons were many inadequate supplies of weapons. In some instances troops were committed without weapons of any kind.
Drama was in the making the afternoon of April 10 when the defenders of Coburg Castle glumly watched the gathering forces of our Division in the North and East. A special task force, was in charge of the castle's defense and they decided to send two of his officers as emissaries to propose a truce for the purpose of evacuating the civilians from the strongpoint. It was learned that the castle and the town of Coburg were under distinct and separate commands, neither of which was subordinate to the other. It was also learned that the two officers did not have the authority to negotiate for the surrender of either the castle or the city. At 0730, April 11th, the representatives of the castle forces were told that they had two hours after their arrival at the castle to evacuate the civilians. At 0830 the two officers returned and stated that the commanders of both the castle and the city defenses had departed with their troops during the night. Conditions within the city were stabilized by 1100 and Coburg Castle was just another tourist site by 1300.
The 28 miles to Redwitz, Germany was uneventful for us except for a few snipers. The advance guard ran into a few Krauts they had to obliterate and then there were the prisoners walking back along the column, adding up to that overwhelming total with which the Division is credited.
Our Battalion took the city of Kulmbach. We didn't stay long enough to cash in on the 13 Breweries, 2 Navy Warehouses and 4 Food Warehouses, but Captain Swerdlow made his way back there while we were stopped in Bayreuth, he made an issue of high quality aviators goggles and leather gloves which he confiscated from the Navy Warehouse. We learned of the death of President Roosevelt right after we pulled into Mainleus. The wires weren't cut and we had electricity in our billets where many of us heard a radio for the first time since England. A Kraut plane dropped two bombs but missed us by a mile. Sergeant Bryant came back from the Riviera with some tall tales, just before we made the 25 kilometer march to Bayreuth.
Back in Weisenfeld, Germany, we recognized the true talents of Edward (not 'G' but L) Robinson. He joined our company in Phersdorth direct from the bandstand of Manny Landers in the Cleveland Hotel. He had previously played with the nations best. Freddie Martin, Alvino Ray, Dave Rubinoff, Phil Spitanly, and Leo Reisman. We found 'Robbie' to be one of the best. His fingers tickle the ivories with the grace that comes from natural talent plus years of practice. When Robbie played Rhapsody in Blue' in Weisenfeld, for us, we all took stand and claimed it was the first time Rhapsody in Blue' was played in Germany since the Nazi ban of Jewish music. Eddie had a smile of satisfaction on his face as he finished. He sipped on his champagne and said: I've been waiting a long time to do that. And now in Bayreuth, the center of the Wagnerian Musical Festivals that Hitler so enjoyed, Robbie repeated his performance, in his billet, not 2 blocks from the famous Wagner House.
We got back into the War on April 19th when at 0730 we attacked South-east to Grafenwohr, Germany. In this phase of battle, Major Knight was evacuated when both his hands were damn near crushed. Bonnani was evacuated when he tried to tangle himself between the 105 and his hatch cover. The column was passing through a string of small villages in the drive to Grafenwohr and many of these villages sported low stone arches some of which were just a hair big enough to allow the passing of our Shermans. Murphy's Tank came through one of those with the turret hatch open. The impact broke the turret lock, and the gun swung around pinning Bonnani against his bog hatch. He wasn't badly hurt but we've made bets that he did plenty of praying for awhile.
Lt. McCormley had assumed command of our Company when Captain Wilkins was killed, but had continued to act as Assault Gun Platoon Leader in the Advance Guard. At Grafenwohr Lt. Warren took over the Assault Gun Platoon and Lt. McCormley saddled up to the light tank. We had quite a crew now. Hernandez of Texas was still driving, Fida of Philadelphia was bow gunner, and Lt. McCormley, and yours truly from the Monongahela Valley were in the turret.
Lt. Justice was evacuated from Caltenbrunn, Germany, on April 22nd when a tank ran over his foot. It was during operations near Schwarzenfeld which was later captured by the advance guard. The next day we pushed 34 miles to Yanahof and on to March via Cham and Regen. We began to see the hordes of slave laborers and political prisoners. To those of us who had never thought about it much, the war's meaning was beginning to sink in deep. Walking skeletons by the masses. Soon to come were more of the same piled up thick. Soon to come were the concentration camps, the huge piles of naked, stinking, beaten bodies of prisoners piled up like cordwood, the living dead with skin so tight over their gaping bones that you expected it to crack when they bent over. Soon to come were the walls of torture chambers covered with the imprints of feet which had kicked and kicked before death finally came. And the stories, the incredible stories which you didn't believe until they took off their clothes and showed you. People's behinds beaten into rawness by big clubs and then the wounds cut open and salt rubbed in. People whipped like dogs would never be whipped. People burned alive, women's breasts cut off, men hung by their testicles. How many millions of people, how many millions of stories. We, who never knew what Hitlerism really was, knew it now.
Cham and Regen are two towns that we'll never forget for more reasons than one. Sergeant Morris favors the egg supply we found in Cham, and the ring side seat he had at Regen, but he can tell it better than I:
'Our advance guard reached the outskirts of though town of Cham. It was originally the objective of CCA but we had made better time then they, on the route to Cham, so when Major Hoffman asked for permission to enter, it was granted. Then the following transmission was heard:
MURPHY: 'Hello, Bailey, this is Murphy over'
BAILEY: 'This is Bailey, Murphy, send your message'
MURPHY: 'Bailey, send one platoon up the road to your right to protect us from the North, then move the rest of your company along with Trooper into the town and raise HELL if you are fired at.'
Though town was soon ours and no firing to speak of, had taken place. We took a large number of enemy troops there that were eager to surrender when they saw the power we had against them. The next step was to find a place to settle for the night. We found a nice house with plenty of beds for all, plus a nice radio that we listened to that evening. Pretty soon one the doughboys in the town asked us if we wanted some eggs and of course we were not the type to refuse. He led us to a place in town where the Krauts had a warehouse full of eggs which were labeled for Wehrmacht use. We loaded up four crates on to the tank and took off to find the rest of our platoon which was back across the bridge from where we had set up our C. P. We kept one crate for our crew and divided the other three crates among the rest of though fellas in our platoon. That night, I know that nobody went hungry because there was plenty to eat thru the courtesy of the enemy. By the way, we also ACQUIRED a bottle of cognac that night and a couple of shots of that liquid dynamite kinds HIT THE SPOT. About five o'clock the next morning one of the fellas from the O. P. crew of the 491st. F. A., who was pulling guard on our tank, shot down a German Reconnaissance plane and it fell in an open field close to our billet. The pilot of the plane got out of though crash okay and the guard hollered at him to stop when he began to run, but the damn fool Kraut paid no attention to him and so he is now pushing up daisies somewhere in Germany. The guard put two bullets through his head a distance of about twenty yards.
'We were right behind Major Hoffman's tank in though column of tough advance guard. We were heading for the objective which was the town of Regen. In order to get to the main part of town and also to get into position to attack with effect, we had to come across rough terrain that led to a blacktop road which, incidentally, was the only road that led into this place. The tanks had all made it across okay and we were sitting on the blacktop waiting for the infantry to come up and start the attack on the town. They caught up to the tanks of Baker Company and so the front of the column was moving in with the doughs in order to give them support when necessary. On our left, along the road, was a steep decline which made it impossible for any type vehicle to get off the road. The right side of the road was nothing but steep inclines, therefore, once you were on the road you had to stay there and keep going. I was standing in the loader's hatch, as we were moving toward town, with my eyes peered for snipers and bazooka men from our right, while Lt. Warren was watching though left side. Suddenly my eye caught a guy crouching in a fox hole along side of though road and sure enough he had a bead on our tank with the bazooka that he was holding. I had my trusty (not rusty) machine gun in my hand ready to fire at him when I noticed that a platoon of doughboys were coming along the bank behind him. For fear of my bullets hitting the doughs, I didn't fire. At the same time the three leading guys of that platoon saw this fool. All fired simultaneously and down he went holding his stomach. When the doughs reached him, he was back on his feet so one of the doughs just gave him a good boot right where it hurts, and before he went much further; he was filled with about twenty five pellets of hot lead.'
While we were coiled on that hill outside of Waldkirchen waiting for the Recon Boys to find us billets, the Luftwaffe made a sudden appearance. Seemed as though they were trying to scare us for a while but it turned out that we scared for they wouldn't even come within range of our bullets. Teddy Pors was shot through the leg and evacuated to the 81st Medics.
We pulled into the town, washed up, and had just finished frying some eggs in the CP when a guard brought in a German civilian, who was picked up at one of the outposts. Lt. Borchardt looked him in the eye, told him to empty his pockets, and remembering that little incident in Oberhof, just let that Kraut have it with the best German cuss words he knew. The next minute the Kraut, with sweat pouring from his face, was on his way to a PW cage, and not through channels.
From Waldkirchen the Recon Platoon started on a mission they will never forget. George Harris was there so I'll let him relate it:
'On April 28th the Recon Platoon was ordered to go to the high ground outside the town of Tannensteig and observe though artillery fire that was coming that way from our 105's. We started out with two peeps leading, followed by the half-track and the other peeps brought up the rear. We didn't got very far when McCoy's peep ran over a Teller mine and Sommer's foot was broken. He was taken back to though battalion area by one of though other peeps and McCoy, who was badly shaken up by the explosion, stayed with us until our peep come bock with a medics peep to keep us company. We continued on the road until we come to a road block. This was enough to stop us from riding any further, but Kirk said the vehicles were to be turned around and parked facing the rear in case of trouble. While backing up his peep to turn around, Mike Nila ran over a double Teller mine -and the peep was blown clear off though road, landing upside down about 15 yards all on one side. Van Aken and e civilian, that we were bringing along because of his knowledge of though countryside, were blown clear of the peep but Mike was pinned beneath it
Van Aken was badly shaken up and Mike laid seriously injured with two broken legs and face wounds. The civilian was out of sight by the time we got around to looking for him. He did a perfect summersault, landed on his feet, and ran so fast he never touched the ground. He was in such a hurry he forgot to pick up his hat. The medics took care of Mike while the rest of us prepared to start hiking.
We emptied our pockets of everything German in case of capture and I was pounds lighter by the time my pockets contained only MADE IN US goods. Then Sgt. Kirkpatrick stuck an ammunition box in my hand and we started out. (At least I didn't have to lug the machine gun around.) By this time it had started to rain and the woods we went through only mode though drops larger. We wandered around the hills for a couple of hours until we come to the spot where we could see the town and report on the incoming tire. Some Krauts must hove been hiding in the woods as every once in awhile they annoyed us with rifle or mortar rounds but our job was to get there and not fight unless we were forced. On the way back I figured that some of the hills would be on down-grade but none of them seemed to be built that way. After about four hours we were back at the place where we had left Kraz and Ruggles to guard the vehicles, and there we found a small task force that was all set to go out and locate US, or the GERMANS. All of us wore tired and nobody was willing to volunteer for though infantry and walk for though rest of the war.
That's about all that happened but there were plenty of times that day when Sgt. Kirkpatrick not only earned his Bronze Star but a flock of clusters to go with It.
Patrols were sent to the Austrian border to make contact with the Russians. Either they were behind schedule or we were ahead of schedule because the patrols brought no results. Combat Command B. was broken up into task forces on the 29th and we sat where we were, as a part of Task Force Sagaser. Rumors were flying thick about this time. We heard that Himmler wanted to surrender his forces unconditionally to the United Stales and England but not to the Russians.
As a part of Task Force Sagaser we trailed Task Force Hoffmann which attacked South and East to Gresbach, Germany, on the 30th and Across the Austrian border into Lembach on the 1st of May when we heard unconfirmed reports that Hitler was dead. From Lembach to Oberneukirchen, Austria, on the 3rd and the prisoners started coming in droves again. It wasn't safe for anybody wearing a German uniform, what with all those former slaves seeking revenge and really getting it. Remember the beating that little five-foot Polish boy gave those three Krauts. He only had a club but the blood flowed like wine. May 4th found us in Gallneukirchen, Austria, wondering how it felt to have a 45 day furlough thrown in your face. Utz and Stevenson had this happen to them the day before and were now on their way to the states. Hayes was shot through the leg on May 7th and Devericks got it through the hand on the 8th.
We didn't celebrate much when the news of the war's end reached us. Little groups gathered here and there and talked about what the war had done to them. Some recalled the humorous aspects of the war. I'd like to quote a few.
This one comes from the Mortar Platoon:
'At one time, we were sure that one of our members would be awarded the DSC. Fida and Kwoka (what a pair) were on guard when three forms appeared on the horizon. 'Surely they must be Jerries' said John J. to Fida, and at the same time let go a burst from his grease-gun. Having missed them, he gave chase. (Eds note: Didn't I see you in Santa Barbara once with a chest full of shooting medals, Johnny?) In the meantime Fida aroused the other members of the squad, who in turn thought this was the counterattack that they were expecting that night. A few minutes later, Kwoka returned without the fugitives (and with them went the five possible points). So the squad went back to their novels completely disgusted with though false alarm. Those Jerries weren't very co-operative in so far as helping us with our critical score.'
While many were joying over the fact that censorship had been lifted and began reverting to hot love letters. The Recon boys gleefully shouted the following story about Jenny:
'Jenny, who sometimes acted like a lady, but most of the time like the girl of the song JENNY MADE HER MIND UP. First of ail lei me tell you how Jenny got her name. There was a platoon with a halftrack without a name so everyone who rode in it was asked to vote. Then Lt. Justice suggested Jenny, his wife's name. The first inclination we had that Jenny had a mind of her own came in Belgium when she stopped to admire the scenery on the outskirts of Mande, while the Jerries were pouring time-fire over our heads. Her radiator stopped a few pieces of shrapnel and she was sent to ordnance for a facial. She returned to active duty full of pep but unable to hold a thing on her stomach. Her sediment bowl became full of water time after time and she stopped dead at though damnedest places. The next time she acted like a prima donna was on the forward slope of a hill, outside Houffalize, while the Germans serenaded her with 88s. This scored though life out of us, and we were as much afraid that Jenny would soon be a pile of scrap iron, as we wore that we would end up the same way because of her.
After this scare she repented and as a reward was given a new motor in Neidermendig. On the way back to the company at Wúeir, she frollicked at 40 miles an hour with chains and seemed to hove mended her ways but the change was only temporary, for soon after, she developed ailments that even though mechanics had never heard about before. On though 28th of April she became a good girl and missed all the Teller mines that the Germans had planted to snare her. Now Jenny is in virtual retirement, in the motor park, and no doubt longs for the good old day when she could tell us whether or not we were going any place, and just how fast we were going to got there.'
On May 15th we helped march 18,000 prisoners to the Russians. This was our last official act of the War in Europe and now we could rest. After one Hundred and thirty-eight days of almost continuous combat we could now breath a sigh of relief. The Hun is crushed, and we remember MAUTHAUSEN, but we are beginning to wonder when we'll see home again.
The beautiful Blue Danube is in our back yard. The river of romance. The cold majestic spires of the distant Alps dominate the southern panorama, and from the north, the green fir-fringed hills unfold gracefully southward to where the Enns flows into the River of Song. In the River of Life is the reflection of our hearts, aching for home. In our dreams there is home and in our minds and prayers. Please dear God, answer our prayers.
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