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THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
AND OTHER MEMORIES OF WWII
by PFC Robert S. Zimmer
1st Platoon, Company A 22nd Tank Battalion,
11th Armored Division Patton's 3rd Army
October 4-8, 1986; Bob and June Zimmer in the company of their daughter Cindy; and son-in-law Captain Terry Stenger, USAF; along with their two sons, Dan (6) and Ben (4), traced the route of the 11th Armored Division during WWII. During the trip, Bob recorded his memories and observations on an audio tape recorder. In 1994, Terry transcribed the story. Bob edited the transcript in 1994 and 1995, adding sections on his entrance into military service, basic training, the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), his assignment to the 11th Armored Division, shipment overseas, movement into the Battle of the Bulge, and finally a short summary of his life after discharge from the U.S. Army. The tape recording was 1st person conversations with his grandsons, whereas, the added sections are in 3rd person editorial style.
On August 13, 1942, I enlisted in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps with the understanding that I could start college and not worry about the draft and that the Army would call me up, when needed. I was able to start at Brockport State Teachers College, New York, and get credit for two semesters of work. I say that I got credit for two semesters because I didn't complete the second semester, but the teachers all gave me credit for the full term. I was most grateful to the Army as I had five term papers that were due and I hadn't started any of them. I was called to active duty on April 23, 1943.
I reported to the Reception Center at Fort Niagara and was there almost 30 days. I was assigned for Basic Training to the Coast Artillery at Camp McQuade, California which is near Watsonville on Monterey Bay. We trained on 155 millimeter (mm) guns towed by tractor. They fired a 100 pound shell about twelve miles. Camp McQuade overlooked the ocean. Almost every day, we had to run in the soft sand as part of our physical conditioning. Our section was made up of about 3 old timers who had been in service before and 15 college boys. The old timers took us under their wing and considerable "book learning" that we had to do. In fact, by the time we got off the train, we had all memorized the General Orders. The old timers told us we had to, if we wanted a pass. The first time passes were available, everybody in our section qualified. We had to climb the cliffs overlooking the bay, learned to fire rifles, and to serve the big guns. One time, we got an alert that a Japanese submarine was near our area. The alert crew fired at it and killed one whale. At least they hit it.
At the completion of basic training, I applied for Officer Candidate School (OCS) along with about 20 other guys. The battery commander called us together and advised us that the Army had a better deal for which we were eligible. The Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) in which you studied Engineering for eighteen months and then went to OCS. That sounded good to me so I withdrew my application to OCS and applied for ASTP. I was sent to Stanford University for testing and processing and then to the University of Oregon for studies. At Oregon, I experienced the most intensive academic work of my life. Each quarter we had advanced mathematics; chemistry; physics; English; speech; American history; geography; military science; and 6 hours per week of physical training (PT). Our daily routine was reveille at 6:00, make beds, shower, shave, and get dressed for breakfast, first formation at 7:30, march to first class at 8:00. March to all classes, march back to the dormitory at noon for lunch, and resume classes at 1:00. Finish classes at 4:00 and march to gym for PT. Mail call and dinner were at 6:00. Evening formation at 7:30 for supervised study hall until 9:30, then back to the dormitory and lights out at 11:00. "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" was the song that awakened us each morning. It has taken awhile for me to appreciate that song. The rules were simple: if you failed an examination or were disciplined for inappropriate behavior, 24 hours later you were on a train back to the Infantry.
All work and no play made Jack a dull student, so we had free time from Saturday noon until Sunday at 5 PM. I was elected one of three guys to the Social Committee. We alternated with the girls on campus (sororities and independent girls dormitories) to provide a Saturday night dance. We put on the best dances, as we had our own dance band of former professional musicians, including a piano player from Jack Teagarden's Band. Actually, we ran a big dating service but I did have a lot of contacts on campus. There were 600 ASTP men, 200 Air Corps meteorologists, and 200 Army language students studying at Oregon.
I should tell about Mrs. Genevieve Turnipseed at this time. She was Director of Dormitories for the University and her office was in our dormitory. Just about every evening, she would invite the three members of the Social Committee to have their supper in her office so we could plan the next social activity. She practically adopted us. Her husband had died in World War I during the flu epidemic. She inspired, convinced, and otherwise influenced me to enter student personnel work when I got out of the Army. Knowing what I intended to do was a big help when I returned to college.
During the Christmas break, I hitchhiked up to Seattle to visit my Aunt Bertha whom I had never seen. She was my mother's sister who had moved to the West Coast shortly after I was born. Hitchhiking was an interesting experience. The driver of a big logging truck gave us a ride over the mountains. He had to put his arms through the steering wheel in order to use both hands to shift two sets of gears. I'll always remember Castle Rock, Washington, where we waited six hours in the middle of the night before we got a ride. In Seattle, my buddy and I took a ferry ride to Victoria, British Colombia, to see his girl friend. The best part was the night boat ride back to Seattle. We left at dusk and by the time we were at sea, it was totally black out except where the setting sun was hitting the peak of Mt. Baker. That was the most awesome, beautiful sight that I have ever seen.
Back at the University, the second quarter started with more advanced studies of all the courses that I had had the first quarter. About the first of March, we were notified that the ASTP program was closing down. They tested everybody for 18 possible transfers to a premed program. I was one of 52 selected for final interviewing but because of a low chemistry grade during midterms, I was not selected. So I joined the rest of the ASTPers (about 1,200 of them), who were assigned to the 11th Armored Division at Camp Cooke, California.
At Camp Cooke, I was assigned to the 1st Platoon, Company A, 22nd Tank Battalion as a bow gunner and assistant driver of tank #4, the Alabama. We had to learn how to be soldiers again as well as how to be tankers. We learned tank maintenance, how to use the machine guns, how to fire the 75mm cannon, and of course, how to drive a tank. I didn't even know how to drive a car. My folks didn't own one, so the first vehicle I drove was a tank. Some people are so unkind as to say that is how I drive a car. While there, I got a three day pass to visit my brother Marty, who was a Marine at Camp Pendelton, near San Diego, California, training to be a Marine aviation mechanic. He even treated me to some Marine chow. It was different from what we got in the Army. I think they ate better. We visited the Hollywood Canteen, where actors and actresses served coffee and donuts and provided free entertainment to the Service men. After that, we went to a fancy nightclub where Service members were admitted free. I wouldn't let my little brother have a drink because he was under age. I knew that my mother wouldn't approve. He's never forgiven me for that!
About the 1st of June, I received my first furlough to go home. I had fifteen days, but was in California and home was Buffalo, New York. It would take 4 or 5 days by train to travel each way so I took all my savings and decided to fly. Flying would still take almost two days and was rather uncertain. I had to change flights several times and each time I sent a telegram to my folks telling them of a different arrival time. By the time I reached Chicago, I was dead tired and went to sleep as soon as I got on the plane. The weather was very rough and everyone on the plane, including the stewardesses, were air sick. Everyone that is, except me. I slept through the whole thing. They landed at Detroit and canceled the flight. Several people congratulated me for being a seasoned air traveler. They didn't know that it was the first time I had ever flown. I finished the trip to Buffalo, New York, by train. The furlough was great but, all my buddies were away in one branch of service or another. I had a good time seeing friends and family. I didn't know that it would be the last time I would see my Dad. He was very apprehensive on the morning he said goodbye and went to work. I got ready to catch my plane back to Camp Cooke.
Back at camp, we started to ready the Division for overseas movement and in August, we started on troop trains for the East Coast and Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. I was able to get two overnight passes to visit my sister Alberta and family in Long Island, and then we were on our way.
During the night of September 27, 1944, we left Camp Kilmer by train for New York City where we boarded the British ship, SS Samaria, for our crossing of the Atlantic. There were 5,000 11th Armored Division troops aboard. The rest of the division may have been on one or more other ships, I'm not sure. We were bedded down immediately and when we awoke, we were at sea. The Samaria was a passenger ship used during peacetime from Liverpool to Calcutta. We were single loaded, which meant that we didn't have to share our bunks with anybody else, i.e., that is to sleep in shifts. Our bunks were hammocks strung over tables in the dining room. The crossing was quite calm and I only got a slight queasy feeling a couple of times. The food was terrible!!! I remember one meal very vividly. First, we were given some very thin oatmeal in our mess kits, then, they added two small unwashed and unpeeled potatoes--they still had mud on them. Next, they added two kippered herring and finally on top of everything, they put a couple of canned peach halves. They nearly had food riots aboard that ship. The British crew, after meals, would sell bologna sandwiches for a dollar apiece. Sgt. Stamm, of my platoon, put a knife to the throat of one of the cooks and got a whole bologna for the platoon. Our officers tried to get better food for us but were told that we were being given British rations and the Captain of the ship's word was law. To make matters worse, when we landed in Liverpool, we saw the ship's crew carrying off whole loins of pork that we knew were supposed to be our food. It was a good thing they got the crew off before we landed. We were ready to declare war against the British Empire right then and there.
While crossing, we had several alerts and calls to General Quarters. We even saw destroyers dropping depth charges near our ship. We were part of big convoy, maybe as many as 80 ships. When we landed in Liverpool, newsboys were shouting "EXTRA!!! EXTRA!!! SS SAMARIA SUNK!!!" That gave us a good feeling as we were disembarking from the SS Samaria. It was October 12, 1944.
Boarding the troop trains at Liverpool, we went to a British tank-training center outside Shrewsbury, near Bristol. There, we drew new tanks and went to work cleaning and test driving them. All the guns were filled and covered with a heavy grease called cosmoline. It took several days to get everything in working order.
Our stay in Shrewsbury lasted about three months. We lived in tarpaper shacks, which were heated by a small soft coal burning stove. For training, they took us on hikes over roads that had been built by the Romans. During these three months, I got 3 or 4 passes to London. The Army wanted us to see as much of the country as we could. We stayed in a hotel run by the U.S. Army in Piccadilly Circus in the center of downtown London. We got to see the Tower of London, the London Bridge, and the Houses of Parliament. Riding on the Underground was also quite an experience as the trains were operating four and five levels below the surface. At the lower levels, they had bunks set up for people so they could escape the air raids. One night while sleeping in the hotel, there was an air raid warning and V-2s came over. There was not enough warning for people to get to shelters. Looking out over the city, I could see fires where they had hit.
Walking around Piccadilly Circus at night was my first experience with prostitutes. They were literally fondling the soldiers as they walked by. They were very aggressive, stating their price was 2 British pounds. The exchange rate was 5 dollars to the British pound. A price of 2 pounds ($10 dollars) was a hefty price, in that it equaled 1/2 month's pay. It was very difficult to retain your virginity in that situation. I did, but it was certainly an educational experience.
On December 17th, we left our barracks to board a landing ship tank (LST) at the port city of Weymouth. This was our first experience on a U.S. Navy ship. We had bunks with clean sheets and great American chow. Crossing the English Channel was uneventful, with calm seas and clear skies. Entering Cherbourg Harbor, we passed a lot of bomb damage and an American hospital ship loading wounded for evacuation to the States.
Unloading from the LST, our tank had an accident. We were almost the last tank off. The LST carried one company of tanks and being in the 1st platoon, we were the 4th tank on and the 12th tank off. The LST, when not carrying cargo, had basketball backboards that swung down so the crew could shoot baskets when not on duty. The vibrations of unloading the tanks caused one backboard to drop down just as our tank was ready to move. Egglington, our gunner, was in the turret and noticed the backboard was down and reached forward to raise it up just as Trevi got the signal to move. Egglington caught his hand between the turret hatch and the backboard. His hand was smashed. He lost three fingers and part of his palm. We had an emergency, as he went into shock. Instead of waiting for an ambulance, we picked up an MP as a motorcycle escort and drove Egglington to the hospital in the tank. What a ride! It was a black out drive at night. Konigsberg and I held small flashlights to give Trevi what light we could to see where he was going. We had the governor of the tank tied down so our speed wasn't limited to 28 mph. Tankers always tied the governors down because, when we want to move, we want to move! The MPs later said that they didn't know a tank could travel that fast. To make the ride more interesting, the tank had steel tracks. The streets of Cherbourg were cobblestone with streetcar tracks down the center. We made a lot of sparks as we drove through town. At one intersection, another MP was standing astride his motorcycle and put his hand up for us to stop. We couldn't stop and were sliding into him as he scrambled to get out of the way. Then, we had two motorcycle escorts. When we finally got to the hospital, we couldn't find the entrance. We drove around until we found an open door. I carried Egglington up one corridor and down the next until we found someone to take care of him. When we got back to the Company, we found them bivouacked, overlooking the English Channel, opposite the Isle of Jersey. We were there about two days until we got a full load of gas and ammo. We had been half loaded when we left England. We didn't know that the Germans had broken through at what was to become the Battle of the Bulge. We had no news broadcasts or newspapers.
We then began a forced march, which became the longest forced march of any Armored Division in history. We drove until we ran out of gas. A truck would come up with five-gallon cans of gas and we would gas up the tank. The tank held 180 gallons of fuel. We were getting about one mile for every two gallons of gas used. Along the way, we saw many burned out German tanks and artillery pieces. We saw a little train pulled by an engine that burned alcohol. Trevi and I took turns driving. On some hairpin turns, we would spin through a 450-degree turn without even slowing down. We didn't get much sleep. When we got to Paris, they decided to have the Division drive through the center of town right up to the Arc de Triumph where we made a left turn and continued on toward Sissone. The Germans were broadcasting to the French that they would be in Paris by Christmas. We were driving through on the 23rd of December. The people were 8 to 10 deep on the sidewalks and were swarming over the tanks with flowers, wine, eggs, and kisses. We couldn't stop. An Armored Division is quite an impressive sight. I found out later, that we were the only Division in France at that time and it was thought that by driving through Paris instead of around it, we would give the people of Paris a morale boost. It was quite a sight! We still didn't know that the Germans had broken through, the French did though. No wonder they gave us such a welcome. At Sissone on Christmas day, we got a rest from driving. We had to break the tracks and replace the track connectors with extenders which added about 4 inches to the width of the track. Between each section of track, we had to remove a one-inch bolt. It took all the strength of one man to loosen the nut. Then with a sledgehammer, we knocked the connector off and hammered a new one on. It was an all-day job. General Patton had promised everybody turkey for Christmas. We got it--turkey and bread, period!
The next day, the Division moved out without us. Our tank had developed a bad transmission. We stayed back with an Ordnance company, who was to replace it. That night, we stayed in an abandoned hospital. It was a series of one-floor wings spread over a large area. The roofs were covered with red tiles. Our crew of five took over one ward or wing and put our sleeping bags on the wooden hospital bunks. There were all sorts of rumors going around, such as German paratroopers having been dropped in the area. During the night, we had a little excitement. A single German plane came over and dropped a bomb. It seemed like a 1,000-plane raid was in progress. Explosions were going off almost continuously, some more violent than others. The tile roofs came off and doors at the ends of the ward were blown in. We were quite fatalistic about it all and stayed in our sleeping bags feeling that if we got hit, we got hit. At daylight, we decided that the war was making too much noise for us to sleep, so we got up and started to make breakfast. While we were doing this, Konigsberg went out to look around. I was making some cream of wheat over a small gasoline stove when the biggest explosion of the night occurred. It knocked all of us to the ground. I got up holding the cream of wheat and I hadn't spilled a drop. Konigsberg came back and told us to pack up, as we were moving out. The explosions that we had heard all night were from an ammunition train that the Jerry had bombed. The Americans were unloading the train under floodlights. The German couldn't miss!
We traveled with the Ordnance Company that day. They decided that we needed a new engine as well as a new transmission. They worked fast to put the new engine in and to get us on our way. It took about two days, I think. We were then traveling on our own over icy, snowy roads into Belgium and on to Neufchateau.
October 4, 1986, from the Hotel Hileinoffer in Schweich, Germany, just outside of Trier. We're leaving the hotel at about 8:45 on our way towards Luxembourg and Bastogne. We have just gone over some cobblestone roads in Luxembourg and that reminds me of the roads during the War in Belgium and France and what our steel track tanks did to those roads. If the roads were frozen hard, we went over fairly well. The tanks would slip and slide, causing a lot of sparks from the tracks on the stones. But, if it had been thawing, like it did right after the Battle of the Bulge, when the big thaw set in, our tanks would cut those cobblestones apart. They'd dig a hole right in the middle of those roads. After a couple of our tanks went through, the hole got so big a tank would almost disappear. The guys driving the trucks and the infantry would have to walk on the side of the road, because it was just a big hole down the middle of the road where the tanks went.
Driving through the woods here, on these curvy mountain roads, you can get some feeling of what it would be like to drive a tank on here, expecting around any turn or at any intersection an attack or ambush. The people driving through would fear mines or anti-tank guns.
The Military Cemetery at Luxembourg
We have just left the cemetery at Luxembourg. So many dead, so many were so young. We visited the graves of several of the guys that served with the 11th Armored Division, some from A Company, 1st Platoon. It's hard to see, I'm very emotional. I'm sorry. These were good friends. I just hope everyone remembers what these guys died for. I think that's all that I can say now.
On the Road to Bastogne
This area of Belgium looks like the area early in the war where the Germans used the Stuka Dive Bomber for crowd control. They would machine gun the streets and roads where refugees were, forcing them onto the highways that the French and Belgium Armies were using in order to get to the front. And so, they'd have crowds of refugees with their wagons and carts, men, women, and children just thronging the roads. The Stukas with their machine guns kept them on these roads and wouldn't let them go on the roads that the armies were not using. They just crowded up the place and prevented the French and the Belgians from getting to the front in order to stop them.
We have just left Gerouville, Belgium, on the road to Neufchateau. I'm trying to think if this is the actual road that we took to get into Neufchateau and the Battle of the Bulge. It's hard to tell now, because right here it's very built up. I don't remember nearly this many houses on the road we took. On the other hand, we may have been on a back road as we were moving forward. But, we'll see what happens as we drive along here. This wooded area that we're going through, looks much more like what we drove through. The road has been improved, a little wider than I remember it. They have removed the noticeable crown in the road. This looks like the road we were on. When it was real icy and snowy, our tank would slide from one side to the other. On each side of the road were big trees that had notches on them. Around the trees were little white boxes about 6 by 8 inches square with wire wrapped around them. As our tanks would slide and come within inches of each of these, getting a little traction in the side ditch, and then work its way up on top of the road again, only to slide down the other side of the road. We were doing that, sliding from one side of the road to the other, and then we realized what these notches were, and what the boxes were around these trees. Those little boxes were TNT and the wire around them was prima-cord. All these trees were notched and set up so that one person could set them off. The TNT would blow them up, all the trees would come across the road, and the Germans couldn't use it. Sort of a scary feeling driving through here, coming within inches about every five minutes of a tree that was loaded with TNT.
When we were driving on this road, our tank was traveling by itself. We had lost our transmission back in Sissone and the Ordnance Company had repaired it. Now we were trying to catch up with the rest of the division. So, it was just our single tank with our five guys in it and we were traveling all by ourselves on this road getting up to Neufchateau. Imagine, it was the middle of the winter, the road was covered with ice, it was snowing, and we couldn't see anything or anybody else. One time we came up onto a little knoll, it was so covered with ice, that the tank couldn't make it. We had to back off onto one of these side roads that you see coming off of Route 85, here. We found a logging road and into that we were able to spend the night. We hid the tank in a clump of trees and went to sleep. But, that's how we felt, you know. If anybody was going to get us, they're going to get us, if not, we're going to get our rest tonight. The next morning was bright and clear, but the road was still iced over. We couldn't get the tank across. There was very little traffic now, but finally a 6x6 truck came by and stopped. We got a 5-gallon can of gasoline from him, poured the gas on the road, and lit it. That melted the ice. The truck driver thought we were crazy because the gasoline fire made a big column of black smoke. He took off as fast as he could. We drove across the road and followed the lumber trail to the top where we got back on the main road.
It took several days for us to catch up with the Division. One night, we stopped in a farmyard, borrowed some hay from the barn, and bedded down. In the morning, we were surprised to see the farmer with a fire going so we would be warm while we dressed. His wife gave us some coffee, which I'm sure was very precious to them. We drove on to a small village and found a guesthouse with a ceramic tile stove where we were we able to get some breakfast. The place was spotlessly clean.
We're now on a stretch of road here that's under repair, and you can get an idea on how wide the road was. You can see how it fell off on each side. And now, if you can only visualize those trees with the TNT on them, you have an idea of what we were driving through. It was after dark when we were doing this too. As we were driving here, we met a young man, a Belgian, who was riding his bicycle. He was doing all right. But, we didn't know where we were going, so we gave him a ride on our tank. We put his bicycle on back and got him inside. He saw how the tank was going from side-to-side, slipping, and everything else. After about a mile or so, he got off and waved us on. He didn't want anymore of riding with us--we were crazy Americans!
Along this road, we also passed a little boy about six years old. He was French, I think he was French. He spoke French, anyhow. He had sort of reddish brown hair and he was just standing by the side the road, shivering. We stopped, put some wool socks on him, and gave him some candy bars, some other food, and a muffler that we had to wrap him up, because he was freezing. But, we couldn't take him nor do anything other than give him some warm clothing, a little bit of food, and passed him by. He was a very forlorn looking wraith, just standing by the side the road as our tank happen to be going by. He was about 5 or 6 years old.
The Division Headquarters was here at Neufchateau. When our tank got here, they held us until somebody from the company came back to Neufchateau and led us to where the company was dug in. We were here, maybe two nights. But, when we were supposed to move, they said we'd have to wait, as our company was in action. They'd wait until somebody came back to get us. Then finally, they took us up to them. We found out then that on the first day of conflict, A Company lost 8 tanks and our platoon lost 3 of the 4 tanks sent into battle. We were very green troops.
Dan, see these open fields here. When we were moving up to the position with our tank company, these fields were crowded with artillery. There were 155mm Long Toms, 240mm Howitzers, and there were 105s. You'd see a battery of artillery in just about every field here, and they were firing. Distance about 6 or 7 miles into Bastogne. If you just visualize all these open fields with a battery of guns in them.
Between 4 and 15, or 20 cannons, piles of ammunition, and guys in foxholes. Everybody worked hard getting those shells in the air. American artillery fire control was very good. They were very accurate both in terms of placing their fire and in terms of timing. They did what was called TOT or Time on Target. This meant that a hundred or more guns would fire and their shells would all land on the target at the same second. It was devastating to the Germans.
We were within 4 or 5 miles of Germans at that time. Straight head, we were between Neufchateau and Bastogne. The Germans were at and around Bastogne at the time. The Germans hadn't stopped their move yet. We were just hitting them, and were part of the 3rd Army that started to push them back to stop their attack. When we, the 11th Armored, got into the battle, the front line was only moving, well, the first day we were lucky we stopped them. After that, the front was measured in terms of 50 to 100 yards, changing every day. So, that was less than the length of a football field. If we were just going up and back and if they didn't push us back, we were lucky. If we could push them back just a little bit, we were lucky. This was the time of very hard fighting. It was cold, very cold. They say it was the coldest winter on record and the temperatures were down to 20 degrees below zero and colder.
Coming around some of these areas, it could be this area here, there's an open field. I remember seeing a lot of parachutes on the ground. These were green camouflage chutes that the Americans were using to supply the troops that were cut off at Bastogne. These were the parachute drops; supplies were dropped in here. We could still see the chutes lying in the fields. This was only a day or two after they had dropped, because the 101st Airborne in Bastogne had been cut off and they had no supplies at all. We could see where the attempt to supply them with air had been tried and now we, the 11th, through the 3rd Army, were making the initial contact. The 4th Armored made the initial contact with the 101st in Bastogne. They were also cut off, but they don't like to admit it. Then the 11th made the final push into it to finally open up Bastogne. Of course, the guys in the 4th would say they relieved Bastogne. I guess they did, but they don't like to say that we were also involved in it. See that field off to our left. Visualize that, all covered with snow and where those cows are, maybe an artillery battalion. Although we are now getting so close, that this could very well be where we were pulled off to join our company. We're very close to Bastogne now.
The reason Bastogne was so important to the Germans is there were six roads leading in and out of Bastogne, controlling road net. If the Germans could get to that and control it, then they had a good shot to Antwerp, where there were huge storage of American supplies at the port. That was the whole purpose of the Bulge, to break through to get to Antwerp, and get those supplies of gasoline, food, clothing, and ammunition. The Germans needed it. They were desperate for supplies. If they could get those, deal a defeat to the Americans, and demoralize them, they thought they had a chance to force the Americans to sue for peace. That was their gamble. In fact, the name they used in German, meant the gamble or the grab, to get those supplies.
See some of these open fields, off to the left or right? Imagine they're covered with 2 to 3 feet of snow. We would have to refuel our tanks, but we couldn't bring the tanks all the way back to where the gas trucks were. So, we'd bring them back as far as we could, maybe a half mile from the gas trucks. Well, then we'd have to carry the gas in five gallon cans cross-country to where our tank was. Remember, we were walking through two feet of snow. It was easier really, to carry 2 cans of gas, that's 5 gallons in each hand, to give you a little more balance. We'd do that, and the tank took 180 gallons of gas. There were a lot of trips. Usually, it was Trevisani and myself that had to do the refueling, because we were the driver and assistant driver. One time, because it was a long trip, I decided to carry two cans in each hand. So, that was 10 gallons of gasoline in each hand and I walked across this kind of country, about a half mile to where our tank was in order to refuel it. Now in later life, when I lift one of those cans of gas, I realize I must have been a pretty healthy guy--strong too!
I mentioned how cold it was. Our tank lost a gunner with frozen feet. I should tell you what I did to keep my feet from freezing. First, our boots were leather and we could only put two pairs of socks on or they become too tight. So, I took the boots off and wrapped my feet in pieces of blanket and put my feet in a pair of galoshes. On the floor of the tank in front of my seat, I folded a blanket about two feet square to insulate my feet from the cold steel of the floor. I couldn't walk very far without boots, but in the tank, my feet were warm. I looked more like a veteran of Valley Forge than a soldier of a modern American Army. At one time, our battalion commander, Colonel Wingard, thought the whole battalion deserved Purple Hearts because of snow blindness. It never went through.
When we got to Longchamps, we had already closed off a piece of the Bulge at Houffalize and the 95th Division was passing through our lines to the 1st Army. My cousin, Clarence Spitzer was in the 95th Division, and he was located in a small town nearby. I paid him a visit. My tank commander said, `"Okay-go," but, he didn't mention it to the first sergeant. So, technically I was a little more than AWOL. But anyhow, I met Clarence and he was in a barn. He was working at regimental headquarters preparing maps for the regiment and division to move on up into 1st Army, when I walked in on him. I had a tanker's suit on, which was pretty greasy from having lived in it for months, it seems. That morning was the first time that I had a chance to wash and shave. So, I shaved. My face looked awful white, because it had been covered with beard and grime. My glasses were those metal rimmed ones and because I was in the tank with my helmet on, they were sort of wrapped around my face and all bent out of shape. He said I was quite a sight. Even though I was huge, I certainly didn't look very attractive. When I got back to the Company, the first sergeant said he was glad to see me, otherwise, he had to charge me as a deserter in face of the enemy.
As we were coming into Bastogne, there were telephone wires everywhere, on trees, in the ditches, and also on the ground. We would get the wires all caught up in our tracks, and of course, we'd cut the lines and they'd wind around our tracks. We had to cut the wires in our tracks or they'd slow us down. So, we tried to be very careful about getting onto the telephone wires. Whenever a line was cut, the engineers would have to follow the line up to see where it was cut and to replace it. This was always a dangerous thing to do. Sometimes the Germans would cut the lines, wait in hiding, and ambush the engineer, because they knew the guy would be coming by to repair that line. They would kill them at that point. So, the engineers would breathe a sigh of relief when they saw that a tank had been in the area. Because that meant a tank had cut the line and they'd be unlikely to be an ambush of some German kraut waiting to shoot them.
This tank has the 4th Armored Division insignia on it. Some of our guys checked the tank's serial number, and as far as I understand, this is actually an 11th Armored Division tank. They just put it up here. They pulled it off the battlefield. You can see some of the holes in it, in the back. These extensions on the tracks are called duckbills. We spent Christmas Day at Sissone putting those on the tanks. We had to break the track and take the connectors off. You see, there are nuts on those. Take that off using a sledgehammer. Put a duckbill on, which is an extended connector. Use the sledgehammer to put them back on again and tighten the bolts. Then, put the track back on. Talking about hard labor--that was it. Now, I was in the tank where this machine gun was in front, the bow gunner, also known as a "bog."
We missed the first day of battle, as our tank needed repairs and we were several days trying to catch up to the Division. We've often speculated what would have happened if we had been there. Our tank normally would have been in the flank where the anti-tank guns were. Either we would have been the first killed or we would have spotted the Germans first, hopefully saving the rest of the Company.
On the first day, we (A Company) had 15 tanks go into battle. Of the 15 tanks, we lost 8. B Company lost 11 of 16 and C Company lost 14 of the 16 that they sent in. It was a disaster, but most of the crews survived. We soon had replacement tanks.
NOTE: While at Bastogne, a Belgian citizen, also viewing the Sherman tank, learned that Bob Zimmer had fought in the Battle of the Bulge. The following is the conversation between Bob Zimmer and the Belgian (in quotations):
"I'd like to thank-you. I'd like to thank-you personally for being here 40 years ago. Because that allows me, as a Belgian, to speak and to tell whatever I want. Otherwise, I would have spoken German--I'm sure of that!" Your name Sir? And where are you from? "I'm from Antwerp, I'm Alider Vanhalt." Thank you. "And I sure thank-you again." Thank-you, you're welcome.
"What part of the United States are you from?" Maryland, just outside of Washington. Well, whatever they tell you about the anti-American things here in Europe going on, it's only a minority, believe me. But, they got the press with them and the press is on the left side. They think in Russia, everything is better. Why don't they go over and see for themselves." Try it one time, one day. "But, I think the majority of the people who don't write to the papers and so, I mean, they like the Americans like we do, all the time." How long is that exhibit open? "Oh, not far away from here--5 minutes or so." No, no, how late is it open? "Well, I think, if you would like to see it, better go now." It probably closes at 5:00. "It's got this big 5-star memorial for all the people who died here. It's got a museum and it shows all the..." Why don't we go there now? "I thinks better." Good. "I'll take my son over there too because he..."
I always have a warm feeling toward the Belgians. They were helping us as we were trying to help them. "You sure helped them, didn't you?" And now little kids can play on these tanks. "Yes, that's right, without fear." What caused this, (pointing to a hole in the tank), that's to be feared." That looks like an 88mm or even a 75. And the other one hole on the side, that went right into the turret. You can see it. Nobody lived coming out of this tank.
At the center of Bastogne, there's an American jeep. It reminds me of the jeeps that worked with us. The windshield was always down, instead of up like this one is. We would have a piece of angle iron welded to the front bumper, that would be up about head level, to catch any wires that might be strung across the road, which the Germans had the habit of doing to decapitate the American drivers. This piece of angle iron always had, like a hook cut into it, so, it would catch the wire and cut them. Being in the tanks they never bothered us, but that's how these worked.
This tank at the memorial at Bastogne has a 76mm cannon on it. It's still essentially the Sherman tank. It has a new turret and a bigger gun. It's got the same track system. But, the gun is one millimeter larger in diameter and it did pack a bigger punch. At the memorial outside of Bastogne, among the units that are memorialized is the 19th Tactical Air Command. They flew support for the 11th Armored Division and more than once, saved us. I remember in particular, one snowy morning, we had moved about five times during the night to get into position and we were on the front slope of a hill. Our tanks were all camouflaged with white and there was a German column that we were supposed to intercept and fight. Just as the sun came up, it was a bright, clear, sparkling winter day. The P-47 Thunderbolts of the 19th Tactical Air Command, came over the hill. We could see them drop down beyond the hill in front of us. They disappeared, but we could see them drop their bombs and see their machine guns go off. They would swing up and around, make another pass, and after about 15 minutes they flew off. There was not German column there for us to fight anymore. So, whenever I meet somebody from the 19th Tactical Air Command, I buy him a drink, gratefully. They saved our necks, probably my life.
Standing at one of the corners of the memorial at Bastogne, one of the points of the star. I can overlook, and they show on here Magarotte, where was the first day of battle on the road to St. Vith. It doesn't show it now, but it just looks very peaceful and placid now, cows grazing, rolling hills with patches of forests, here and there. It's hard to imagine how this would look when it was covered with snow; every field and almost every foot of it had an American unit of some sort in it. Tanks, artillery, and supply, and Germans, all fighting just as hard. Eighty thousand men--American casualties here, 42 years ago. It's hard to imagine what it looked like.
Well, we're up on top and looking at the map. We saw the town of Magerotte. I remember one incident that happened in Magerotte. A couple of our guys were wounded and we were being pushed out of Magerotte, we had to fall back. We couldn't take them with us, so we sat them on the street next to a building, with a coat and a blanket around them, hoping that the Germans would take care of them when they took over the town. Two days later, we got back into Magerotte and we found out how the Germans took care of the guys. They were still seated next to the building with a blanket around them, the only difference was, they each had a bullet hole in the forehead. That's how we found them.
This little valley here, reminds me of a time during the fighting. It must have been a Sunday. The chaplain came up and we were in a little hollow like that. He held a service and we were having communion. He no sooner started to serve communion than mortar shells came in. We all had to scatter, but he stayed at his spot. It was Captain Olsen, chaplain of the 11th Armored. One-by-one we came up to the table, took communion, and then dispersed again. He just kept the service going, but told everybody to scatter and take cover in foxholes and so on. But while he stayed out there, we came up to him and took communion. That was just that kind of little valley.
Now, going through these valleys, here. One time, we had to move about five times in one night. It would only be a mile or two. It was really like a chess game, trying to get into position from where we thought the Germans were going to attack. This is some of what I mentioned before about the 19th Tactical Air Command supporting us. We had painted our tanks white with whitewash material, white washed them. You could barely see our tanks, as we were moving. In fact, we were in the front of some of these trees here, just inside these trees. I walked by them and I couldn't see a tank there. It was all painted white. We even had a piece of paper, a V-mail form. Mom knows what I mean by V-mail. It was an 8"x10" preprinted form that we could write a letter on. This form was photographed on 8mm film and sent to the States. There it was developed, printed on a 4"x6" form, folded over, and sent to the addressee. It reduced the volume of mail and was much faster than regular mail that went by ship. We had the form over the end of the barrel of the cannon with just a pinhole in it. We had to put the pinhole in so moisture wouldn't collect inside.
Here we are in Longchamps. I'm very curious if we can find a little church here, where I spent one night. We're just going to, sort of, look around here, see what happens, and see if I get some other memories, here. That's a big church out there. It doesn't look like it was that big. But, let's drive up there and see. We parked our tank right here. There's a sign here that says Compogne 4 and Adeps. They have done some other things with this building. But, I think that was part of that church. I remember when we were here I saw one of the guys from the 56th Engineers, a guy that I'd been in school with at the University of Oregon. They came by with their mine detectors and were sweeping this road in front of us going out that way to see if the road was clear of mines so we could drive our tanks over it. We slept one night in this building. You can see how badly it had been damaged. But, there's a corner or two where we were out of the weather and it was easier sleeping there than in our tanks that night. We were right at this corner. Let's get out and walk around.
I remember an area; there was disabled tank near here, on that other side and a hole in this wall. We almost missed it, but, then we looked carefully, and there was a booby trap, a grenade set up with a trip wire. If we had walked through that hole we would have hit that grenade. I believe there was another American tank here that had been disabled or abandoned in earlier fighting. We thought, boy, we could get in it and move it out, we captured one of our own tanks. Then, we decided to check it first. There were mines underneath it. If we had moved it at all, even an inch, it would have blown up.
I remember one day; again, it was a time when we moved during the night to get into position. We were going through the lowest point of a valley, like this one. I remember it was all snow and everything else. We were about the fourth tank in line and we were just weaving our way through the valley. All of a sudden, our tank got stuck. What had happened, there was a spring there, and we had hit that spring. It was all covered with snow, but it was all mud underneath. So, we just sunk into the mud and couldn't move. The other tanks moved around us, and because they couldn't wait for us, they moved on ahead. Well, we started to see what we could do to free the tank and got out. Trevi was driving, Konigsberg and I were on the ground with our shovel trying to dig the mud out and get ice or hard dirt underneath it. There we were, right out in the middle of nowhere and nobody around. We were working trying to get that tank loose and all of a sudden, we looked up and there were a dozen guys in white uniforms with rifles. They were all around us, and they asked us what the password was. Oh, we just about died. We didn't see them coming for nothing! They were all around us. I think--yes, the password, I still remember. It was "gyro" and the countersign was "compass." Then they just as quickly faded into the darkness and snow and they were gone. You couldn't see them. We kept working on the tank to get it free.
Then up on one of the ridges, like in this area here, up high. Remember that we were down low. We saw something up there and then we saw a little white thing, like pieces of chalk coming very slow over toward us. As they were getting near the tank, it was clicking like that (click, click, click, click...). We were wondering, what's that? Then we realized, they were 50 caliber machine guns that were shooting at us.
They were really some of our own troops from the 41st Calvary up there. They saw this movement down there and thought we were a German tank. So, they started shooting at us. We had to get on the radio and tell them, don't shoot--we were friendly. Okay, let's stop here for a minute.
Later in the night, our company tank retrieval unit came down. That's really a tank chassis with a hoist on it. They were able, being on solid ground, to get us out of that mud. We were able to rejoin the outfit. Well, we were in position; we only had to go another mile or so. We were in position, all white, couldn't see us. So, we were dozing in the tank for a couple of hours--only one guy awake. Then, next thing I remember was this awful screaming sound. Like a dozen cats having their tails tied together. They were screaming! I remember popping open my periscope and looking out, and there about 50 yards in front of us was a big sheet of flame. What it was, was an attack of nebelwerffer. These were the German rockets, had high concussion, a lot of flame, but, no shrapnel in them. They were known as screaming mimies. They really scared us. If they had hit the tank, there would have been a lot of flame around us, but I don't think they would have hurt us unless the flame got into our engine compartment. We had that attack, and needless to say, we were suddenly wide-awake, knowing what was happening. Then they backed off. They let us know they knew where we were. But, they didn't advance at that point.
We're on this road now, from Longchamps to Houffalize. This is where the 11th Armored, with its 41st Calvary Reconnaissance, met up with the 1st Army and successfully pinched off a large section of the Bulge, and cut off a large number of Germans between. We had them completely surrounded here. This was really the beginning of the end of the German attack. It was still early in January and there was a lot of fighting to push the Germans out of Belgium entirely. And this is Houffalize. Yes, we're here now.
The screaming mimies looked like five tubes, each about 8 inches in diameter on a little cart, like a wheel barrel. One man can put them into position, point them, and then he sets them off. They go off, 1, 2, 3, or 5 at a time. They go high into the air and when they land, they explode. They have such a loud noise, a funny noise, because they're rockets. It really causes you to sit up and take notice!
You can see all the woods and forests here. You can imagine moving through here in winter time, how much more cover the Germans had than we had as we tried to get around them, move through them, and so on. I remember one time, we moved five times during the night and only advanced 100 yards. There were infantry with us and they dug five foxholes in frozen ground that night in a 100-yard advance. That was frozen ground. I remember the infantry guys coming back to our tank and borrowing our shovel because all they had were the small trenching tools, like Terry has. We had the full size shovels, axe, and crowbar. They borrowed those. We also supplied them with a case of K-rations or C-rations because they didn't carry too much. We always carried a lot of food on the tank to give those guys what they needed.
Here at Houffalize, after we joined up with the 1st Army, the 95th Division of the 3rd Army passed through and was transferred to the 1st Army. That's where Clarence Spitzer's outfit moved through us up to here. That was after we had made contact.
There's a German tank there, see it. Let me stop here for a minute. We had more tanks, even though we lost eight tanks that first day of battle from our company, we didn't lose the crews. Within 2 or 3 days, we had replacement tanks and we were back up to full strength again. Where, the Germans, if they lost a tank, they were out of business. They had no replacements for them. This German tank in Houffalize that we're looking at is a beautiful example of a Tiger tank in good condition. It's a beautiful day here too, on Sunday, October 5th. We're about ready to move out of Houffalize on the rest of our trip. Everybody is sort of climbing over this tank now, and it's a nice one. This tank was not a Tiger. It's a Panther tank and has a 75mm cannon, but that's a souped up 75mm, much more powerful than the 75s that we had on the Sherman tanks. This was a good tank and we didn't like to run across them. But, I don't see where this was damaged to knock it out. They may have repaired it, I don't know. Or it may have just run out of gas.
The difference between American and German tank guns and armor was definitely in favor of the Germans. To give you an idea, American tanks had 2 inches of armor plating on the front and 1 inch on the side of the tank. The Germans had 8 inches on the front and 2 inches on the side. We overran a German proving ground and tested our guns against theirs. Our 75mm could penetrate 2 inches of armor plate at 100 yards and our 76mm could penetrate 2 inches of armor plate at 300 yards. The German 88mm could penetrate eight inches of armor plate at 1,000 yards. We tried to avoid tank-to-tank combat. The German tanks were just too superior.
We were in sort of a field that was surrounded by trees and for the first time, our kitchen trucks had been able to be released to us. Prior to that, the kitchen crew and their trucks were used to haul ammunition and gasoline up to the division. Well, they released them back to the company; so, we had a hot meal. I remember it was pork chops. We had lined the tanks up inside of this open area next to these trees so they were pretty well hidden. We had gone in to get our chow, and like dummies, we lined up in a chow line. When we were just about ready to get our food, mortars came in. We made a mad dash to get back in our tanks because it's safer inside of a tank than outside of the tank when there are mortars coming in. I think I retained some of my pork chop, but not much of it. At that field, I also lost a hunting knife that I had in my boot. I remember that knife because I had gotten it as a Christmas present from one of my Dad's good friends. That was Paul Wershing, a Masonic friend of my Dad's. He had given both Uncle Marty and me a knife to, well; it was just a hunting knife. It had been a couple of years before, but I had carried that all through the war up to that point. Making that mad dash to get back in the tank, I lost the knife.
In this area, you must remember we were here for about a month. We were doing lot of in and out, moving all around. So, one day or next, I've got some of these things out of order. But, one time they had us building a corduroy road. A thaw had come up, we cut down trees and made about three levels of logs, so the tanks could ride on them. They had us do it because each tank had an axe. So, we were in these forests that you see here, cutting trees, trimming them, and then hauling them out. A crew was putting them together for a road. We had to work on that about 3 or 4 days. There are several things that I remember. One is that one-day, General Patton came by. He was in a staff car. It was the first time we had seen him. Another thing I remember was that every night the Germans would drop some mortars on that road, blow it up, and we would have to build it again. We also had a few casualties from that road, of guys who weren't use to using an axe. They would cut their foot or so. That was dangerous. It wasn't a good way to get out of the war, but some of them did. I guess it was just as painful and dangerous as being shot. But, being hit by an axe in your own hand wasn't very nice either.
One night, when we were out of the tank, we had a small fire going to heat our C-rations and to warm ourselves up at bit. There were 2 or 3 dead Germans lying around, frozen stiff. Also, some German ammo from an 88mm. Being of a curious nature, I opened one of the shells by twisting the projectile off. The powder inside looked like uncooked spaghetti, only of an olive drab color, quite different from the American gunpowder, which were little pieces about a quarter inch in length. This was two feet or more in length. We decided to see if it would burn. It did! It took off like a rocket. We had fun for a while seeing the pieces shoot off like Roman candles.
C-rations were tin cans about the size of a soup can, maybe not quite as tall. One can held hard tack, instant coffee, cocoa or lemonade. The cocoa was the only one that tasted good. With that, we had our choice of frankfurters and beans, beef stew, or beef hash. Except for the label, you couldn't tell the difference between the hash and stew. Sometimes, we put all three together and called it "slumgullian." It didn't taste too bad.
Back around Bastogne, I remember one time when our platoon of tanks relieved a company of the 17th Airborne Division. They were in a schoolhouse; it was stone and badly damaged. There was only about five guys left out of the company. They had a whole pile of their duffel bags. When we relieved these guys, they were in a state of shock. The Infantry Company was made up of about 225 people. They had gone out to attack the Germans and the first time, about 150 of them came back. They had to attack again and about 100 of them came back. And they kept attacking until there were only five men left. All this equipment was there. They were just sitting around a fire in a corner of this old school house. Their eyes were glazed and they really didn't know what was happening anymore. We came in, relieved them, and set our tanks up to defend that area. They were evacuated. The interesting thing about this is, later when I was at the University of Chicago in the counseling center, I met one of those guys who had come through the university. When he mentioned that he was in the 17th Airborne, I described that little schoolhouse to him, and he said that he was there.
On the tanks, we carried about 180 gallons of gas. We got about a half-mile per gallon. So, we could go about 90 miles on a tank full of gas. We should see some dragon teeth through here. They were part of the Siegfried Line built by the Germans. These were tank barriers. They're concrete pieces set in the ground, standing up about 3 or 4 feet. So, tanks couldn't get around them, they'd slide off of them and turn over. These were protected by mine fields and by bunkers where 88s and 75mm cannons were set up. So, there would always be interlocking fire. Each of these bunkers would be protected by 2 or 3 other ones.
We will be coming into Wieswampach, an area where we stayed for about 2 or 3 days. I remember the Red Cross coming up, showing a movie, and having coffee and donuts for us. We went to a movie in a big barn and our colonel decided that, well, he was following the orders of old General Patton, and that saluting was back in fashion while we were in Wieswampach. Well, when we came out of the movie, lo-and-behold, who should we see coming toward us, but Colonel Wingard. So, all the guys split up in groups of ones and twos, and we would hold our salutes until he returned the salute for the guys in front of us. He was saluting the whole battalion almost one man at a time. It was just perverse. He just went through the outfit, here was the colonel, he just said we had to salute. Instead of being in a big group, like a whole company, it was ones and twos. Beyond that, at Wieswampach, we practiced attacking the bunkers and pillboxes of the Siegfried Line.
Here we are in Wieswampach, let's see if I can recognize some things. Oh, while we were here, by the way, I remember seeing one of those 1,000-bomber airplane raids flying over. We just laid on the grass, looked up, and saw these airplanes, the fighter planes, and their contrails. This town looks very well developed now. I don't remember it even having a paved road when we were here before. I remember having one attack where the Germans were throwing some white phosphorus smoke shells at us. Let's see what else, If I can recognize any of this town. This is so built up, that I don't recognize anything here. Here's the town center. What I remember was, we were in a house and around the house they had a stone wall. On top of the stone wall in bedded in concrete were broken glass bottles. Well, we've come out of town. I don't see much here anymore that looks familiar. So, I think we'll turn around and go back to St. Vith.
When we were here in Wieswampach, they would have a meeting of the battalion in one of these fields. We'd just sit around in sort of an amphitheater and I remember Colonel Yale of Combat Command B (CCB) coming down, telling us by the numbers how we would attack a pillbox. And that's how we did it. We took infantry, armored infantry were on the back of our tanks, we drove to these pillboxes, and we'd spread out, and attack it. Using our guns and the infantry with shaped charges. Our guns would keep them buttoned up. The infantry would move up, put a shape charge, and blow the thing open. We cleared about 20 pillboxes in one day that way. Just our company. We had one bad experience on this. At the close of the day, we were on our way back when they discovered one pillbox had been missed. Our number one tank with Harry David driving, moved out with a full squad of infantry on its back to attack it. They hit a mine. It was 12 teller mines stacked. It blew the tank so badly, the turret of the tank was free wheeling, just spinning around. Harry ended up with two broken legs and a fractured skull. He was in a VA hospital for the rest of his life after that. That happened right near here.
This may be a confession that I really shouldn't make. Here in Wieswampach, we decided to liberate a homelite. That's a small generator that Colonel Wingard had to generate electricity, lights, and so on. Well, another guy and myself liberated it and brought it back. We were real proud of it, of having it so we would have electricity, lights, and so on. But, our tank commander said, "there's no way you were going to keep that thing. They'll be hunting for it all over and if they find it here, we'll be in deep trouble." Well, we suddenly got orders that we were going to move out. We didn't dare return it. We didn't dare take it. So, we just dug a hole, put a tarp over it, and buried it. We didn't know anything about that generator! So, it's buried in some farmyard around here in Wieswampach. "How big was it?" It was about 3 feet long, a foot and a half wide, and a foot and a half high. A little gasoline engine with a generator. Two people could carry it.
In St. Vith, which is between 30 or 40 miles from Bastogne. This is almost on the northern side of the Bulge that the Germans pushed through. The Germans were slowed down here by the 10th Armored Division. Instead of rolling right through, they stopped them for over a week. Although the Germans eventually captured St. Vith, that delay kept them from going onto Liege and Antwerp. It especially kept them from going to Liege. A little bit north of here, in Malmedy, is where they had the Malmedy Massacre. Where the Germans captured about 150 Americans, had them in trucks, took them to an open field, unloaded them, and then machine gunned them. There were only 1 or 2 who survived and escaped to tell the story about the Malmedy Massacre. That's just about 10 or 15 kilometers north from here. The 10th Armored was the outfit that was involved in that. This was a very critical part of the Bulge. What we've done today, is pretty much go from the south to the north extremes of the German penetration into Belgium at that time. The 11th did fight through here. As we were preparing to go into Germany toward Prum, the Prum River, and the town of Gerolstein. We'll be following that route shortly.
We're passing under a bridge that apparently was blown up during the war. When we were driving through Central Germany on the autobahn, one of the big bridges there blew up right in front of us. In fact, right in front of our first tank, and we were about number four tank. We just saw the span raise up then drop down. It was a couple hundred feet down to the valley floor. Approaching Germany at Prum, it was important to cross the Prum River, which was a first natural barrier in Germany before we reach the Rhine. The Germans were very determined that we were not going to cross that, because they didn't want the Fatherland, the homeland in Germany, to be invaded. We were now fighting in Germany. It was very hard fighting going through this area. This was one time when Company A of the 22nd Tank Battalion led the 11th Armored Division in the attack. We were in the front line. I remember a couple of things here. Sort of, the feeling getting out of the tank at the end of the day and knowing that there were no friendly people in front of us. Not only was it scary getting in front of the tank to do that, but it was sort of exciting too. Here we were the first troops, the front line of troops into Germany. That night, unknown to us, we heard some other tanks moving. But, a whole battalion of 155mm Long Toms, guns on a tank chassis moved into our bivouac area. Then about 3:00 in the morning, they decided to do some firing to establish their range points. Practically next to the tank, the 155s go off. A 155mm is a 6-inch gun--that's a big gun! That was sort of a rude awakening that night. But, then when we took off from there, it was one of the days when I personally put about 5,000 rounds of machine gun ammunition through the bow gun that I was manning. We used up a lot of ammunition that day.
In this fight to cross the Prum River, we had a misfortune, in that our radioman and loader put a round into the breach of the 75mm that didn't seat all the way. So, he pulled it out, slammed it in again, and still didn't seat all the way. He did it a third time and it didn't seat. So, he pulled it out and the casing came off, leaving the projectile jammed in the barrel. Well, we couldn't use our gun then, couldn't put another shell in behind it. When we came upon a lull in the fighting and we took a ramrod and tried to push that projectile out. Two of us pushing on it, three of us pushing on it, we couldn't budge it at all. Finally, we depressed the gun and drove the tank with the ramrod against a tree very slowly, trying to push that projectile out. We put the gun into full recoil and it still wouldn't come out. While we were working on that, two Germans came up and surrendered to me! I had to take these guys back and all that I could see at that point was a few tanks from the 1st Platoon. I went over a little knoll with these prisoners and there was the whole 11th Armored Division lined up. As far as I could see, left and right and front to rear. The whole Division. All the tanks, all the tank destroyers, all the armored artillery, 105s, 155s, everything was there! It was an amazing sight and here they were waiting for us to keep moving out. A lieutenant said, "send them back to the rear." So, I told the Germans to, "Rasch mit, rasch! Mach schnell!" Then, I was told to go back to our tank, and we did. We moved out and then we got to Gerolstein.
It was very embarrassing; we still couldn't use our gun. We were in an area about the size of a football field trying to cross the Prum River. The Germans were dug in. We were using our machine gun, but we couldn't use our cannon. We couldn't get the Germans out of there. While we were there, some infantry came up. This was early February, the snow was gone, but it was still very cold. They had to cross this river. We were sort of in a field, the river was on the far side of it, and then a hill going up where the Germans were dug in. These infantry guys had to cross this field, wade through water up to their armpits, and then climb the hill. To make it worse, there were snipers behind us, where they were picking these guys off. A couple of them were hit near our tank. We drove over them, released the hatch underneath the tank, and we passed them some morphine because they were hurt, until medics would come up to them. But then, we just had to set the tank on top of them because mortar fire was coming in, exploding all around us. In fact, it was so close, it was rocking the tank. Like I'm sitting in this car now. On the side of the road where these posts are going by, that's how close the mortar shells were to the side of the tank. We had to stay there until after dark when they pulled us out.
Then the next day, we were able to clear our gun by taking the shell casing and using a hack saw to cut off about an inch of it. We filled it with gun powder, put it in the tube, and everyone got out of the tank except Dear Ole' Dad. I was down in the bow seat, reached up into the turret, hit the firing pin, and fired the gun. It fired that projectile right out of the tube. Then we were able to go again. But, the embarrassing part of it was that following that engagement, General Patton relieved our general, General Kilburn, of command of the 11th Armored Division, because we didn't get across the Prum River at that point. He wanted to go right then. We got a new general, guy by name of Dagger. In fact, his initials were...., well, his name was Harold E. Dagger. They called him H. E. for "High Explosive Dagger." We never had a close feeling for him. We felt very close to General Kilburn and thought he was improperly relieved of command. But, that was General Patton for you.
From Gerolstein on, it was a dash toward the Rhine River. We were driving along roads like this until we got to Mayen. Driving pretty fast. Every once in a while, there would be a delaying action; we'd have to get off the road and fire. But, usually the lead company was able to take care of it. I remember it was generally bad weather, rainy and cold. But also, a very anxious ride for me because I had diarrhea. Every time they stopped, I'd get out of the tank and then jump back in the tank. It was that kind of day or so as we were driving through here. After Gerolstein, it opened up and we were moving pretty fast. There was a fight at Gerolstein and then we had a lot of action around Mayen. We stayed a day or two at Kottenheim, just outside of Mayen. That's just before the Rhine.
In Kottenheim, is where our company and battalion ended up on the dash to the Rhine. I remember a couple of things, they're sort of not military, but, incidents here. One, Elmer Aurand found a couple of, what we call German jeeps. They're really the predecessors of the Volkswagen. And he got them running and he was running all over the country side with them. He also had some motorcycles that he got together, were running. We also, when we first got here, found some chickens. I learned how to ring a chicken's neck. Some of these farm boys from South Carolina, Miller in particular, just take the chicken, twirl it, and throw it against a fence, but, have its head stay in his hand. That's how we had chicken that night. We did that to about 50 chickens.
From Kottenheim, we went on to close off the Saar-Mosel Triangle. Which ended up when we got to Worms. Along the way, we cleared small villages of German troops who were trying to get back across the Rhine for the defense of Central Germany. This is really developed from when we were here before. I don't see too much. I don't see the fence we threw those chickens against. I don't even see the chicken house. But, this is an area where we spent 2, maybe 3 days at before we made the move on down the Rhine to Worms. Part of the division, in fact, CCA, went up to Andernach and reached the Rhine there. We were in CCR, that's Combat Command Reserve. Maybe I'd better tell you what that was. We were there quite often. The CCR was to support CCA or Combat Command B (CCB), whichever had the major mission. If one of them had a breakthrough, then CCR was to exploit it. If they broke through, we were to go through their line and make a dash ahead as far as we could go until we got stopped. Playing havoc behind the lines of the Germans, disrupting communications, getting bridges, and controlling it, and so on. If they had difficulty and were being pushed back, we would come and support them to prevent a German breakthrough. So, we always had to be prepared either to breakthrough on our own or to support CCA or CCB, whichever needed help at the time. CCR could vary in size from one platoon of tanks to a whole battalion of tanks, depending on what the action that the other combat commands were up against.
When the 11th was getting ready to go overseas, our general, General Kilburn, had the last divisional meeting. The whole division was out and he talked to us. He said that, "There's one thing this division hates--it's a sniper. If a sniper shoots at us from a building, that building is coming down. We don't tolerate snipers!"
Well, when we were across the Rhine and making mad dashes through Central Germany, we would send ahead through our piper observation plane, with loud speakers, telling them to surrender. And, if they were surrendering, to fly white flags or sheets, and we would know that the town was surrendering. Each town we went through, there was white. Every house, every window had a white sheet flying out of it. Well, this one town had white sheets flying. Our cavalry, reconnaissance squadron that was out in front of us, had two jeeps and an M-8 armored car. They were going through the town checking it before the division moved through. They didn't realize, the Germans had an anti-tank gun in a barn. The Germans let one jeep go through and when the armored car went by, they hit it, wiping out everyone in the armored car. The jeeps circled the town, radioed back, and the division came up. We were just about track-to-track. The tanks circling the town with the artillery just behind us and the 105s, which were self-propelled on tank chaises. Then behind them were the 1 55s and the 240 millimeters, the 8-inch guns. We just open fired on it. The tanks giving direct fire and the others giving indirect fire. We wiped out that town. There wasn't anything left when we proceeded through it. The General had been right, if a sniper shot at us, we just didn't wipe out the building, we took out the whole town. We then proceeded through the town. There were no other problems. As we drove through the town, I saw the armored car by the side of the road, all burnt.
On this, the third day of the Zimmer trek follows the route of the 11th Armored Division. Leaving Koblenz, this is where we went to close off the Saar-Mosel Triangle. The 11th captured almost a quarter of a million German soldiers who had been cut off from the Rhine as they were trying to get into Central Germany for the final defense of the Fatherland. We had made a midnight march in order to close off the distance between Koblenz and Worms. Along the way, we had driven up some of these mountains here. I remember one time, this blackout march, and looking down the mountain I could count seven different levels of blackout lights on the tanks, so, it was a series of switch backs going up that mountain. Seven different levels, I could look right down and just see these little blackout lights on the rear of the tanks. I knew there were seven of them.
As we were going through this area, we would stop at a town, spend the night, and go around the countryside picking up the straggling Germans. This is where I got that big German flag. We would go into a village at dawn, surround it with tanks and infantry, then go through and search all the barns and all the houses, under the beds, in the closets, wherever, and collect German prisoners. Usually, they surrendered quite peacefully because by this time they were disorganized and there were just remnants of them, small groups or individuals trying to get across the Rhine. In order to help them find the Rhine, because this was all wooded and mountainous here, on the other side of the Rhine there were two searchlights forming a big V in the sky. We could see that and of course all the Germans could see it. You could see it for miles around. That was to guide the German troops so that they knew where the Rhine was and where they could get across. Of course, we were in between, so we were picking them up quite readily.
Going through these little villages was almost a, well, we had banker's hours. We'd get out early in the morning and then about 3:00 in the afternoon, head back for the village where we would spend the night. It was on one of these treks. These villages were fairy tale villages with narrow, crooked streets and the ginger bread houses made out of stone, and the stucco and beam construction, just like Hansel and Gretel or the Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Well, this one day we were coming back, Konigsberg, remember he's our tank commander, decided he wanted to drive a little while. So, he traded spots with Trevisani and so Konigsberg got into the driver's seat. We had just stopped in the center of this town and Henny is sort of a hotshot driver when he drove. So, he gunned the tank, stepped on the gas, and pulled the lever for a left turn. The tank didn't quite respond as quickly as he expected it to. Instead of clearing the building in front of us, the right track of the tank hit the corner of the building. And it came tumbling down. Big boulders and rocks and everything right on top of the front of the tank. The only thing that protected Koenigsberg was that the gun was out in front of him and the gun deflected the rocks from hitting him because his hatch was open, he was driving with his hatch open, onto my side of the tank. Up until they switched positions, my hatch was open. I was sitting there with my head and shoulders out of the tank and everyone said, "What happened to Zimmer?" But, when they changed positions, I decided it was time to take my afternoon nap. I had closed the hatch and was just settling down, when crash, and all this stuff came tumbling down. All I got was a dirty neck because the dust had sifted down through the hatch. But, they had a real pile of rock on top of the tank there and they threw all that off. The tank was all right. The people who were in the house were sort of surprised as they were just sitting down to their afternoon dinner or supper. All of a sudden, the whole corner of their house was gone and they were open to the elements. We looked right in, and, they were sort of shocked. That was one experience we had.
Then when we finished that, we went up to Worms and crossed the Rhine. We crossed on a pontoon bridge. We were surprised because all of a sudden, there were sailors around in their white caps and blue sailor suits. What are they doing in the middle of Germany? Well, they were really not sailors, they were Coastguardsmen. They had come up to handle the pontoon bridges to get us across the Rhine. A pontoon bridge is made up of a lot of little boats with decking laid across it for the tanks to go across. We just crept across the Rhine like that. On each side of the bridge, they had smudge pots so we had smoke up in the air so nobody could see us. Quite an area on each side of the bridge was smoke covered because they wanted to obscure from the Germans where this bridge was and so their artillery and what airplanes they had, couldn't find it. That's how we crossed the Rhine, very slowly, and very cautiously. Then the 3rd Army was across the Rhine into the Heartland of Germany.
One other incident that happened when we were at Kottenheim. It was a clear day, much like today, although today has a little bit of ground fogs this early. In the middle of the afternoon, we saw a P-38 Lightning in a dogfight with a German airplane. All of a sudden, the German airplane had a puff of smoke from behind it and he was gone! The P-38 was left standing there. It was a Messerschmidt 262, one of the first jet fighters that the Germans had invented. This P-38 was chasing him and all of a sudden, he cut in his afterburner and that jet was gone! The P-38 was left standing there with its mouth open, almost. That was right over Kottenheim, where we had spent the night. Maybe I'll get some more memories as we go along. The Zimmer trek continues...
The 11th Armored earned three Battle Stars while they were in Europe. The first one was for the Battle of the Ardennes. That was the battle in and around Bastogne. The second one was for the Rhineland, which we have just gone through where we had closed off the Saar-Mosel Triangle and captured a large number of Germans. After we crossed the Rhine, we got a third Battle Star for Central Europe. Sometimes known as the Rhineland. The three Battle Stars then were the Ardennes, the Rhineland, and Central Europe. Central Europe, as we now crossed the Rhine and are now on our way toward Fulda, Bamberg, Coburg, and Bayreuth. We'll be getting there shortly and I'll be talking about them.
Once we had crossed the Rhine, the Germans were pretty well disorganized. We were driving very fast through this area. Every once in a while, we'd come up against a pocket of resistance. Especially, in some of the cities over closer to what is now East Germany. Through here, the generals and so on, would expect the division to make 15 or 20 miles a day, or in a week's time. We frequently out ran our maps. They'd given us maps of an area, which we were suppose to cover in say, 4 or 5 days. We'd do it in one day. It was so confusing, things were so mixed up, that we, the division; just drove, drove, drove through it. It was mostly just driving at this time. When we get over to some of these cities that we'll visit today, I'll recall some other things that I think you'll be interested in. But, right now we are just driving, breaking through like the Germans taught the Panzers to do--breakthrough warfare. We were behind the German line of defense and were just causing havoc on the inside of Germany.
You know, each division had its own code name. I think the kids would be interested in what the code name for the 11th Armored Division was. It was Batman! There were signs all over the place, Batman 1, Batman 2, Batman going straight ahead, and so on. We were Batman. The name of the Division was the 11th Armored Division Thunderbolts.
We're on the road toward Schweinfurt, but, those of you who were devotees of Hogan's Heroes would be interested to know that just north of here is the town of Hammelburg, which was were Hogan's Heroes' prison camp was, Stalag 17. It is also where, in real life, was a prison camp and General Patton's son-in-law was there. He sent an armored force, a combat command, over to take that prison camp and liberate the prisoners there, among whom was his son-in-law. He did this, really contrary to his orders because Hammelburg was out of the direct line of the movement of the Army. We were moving right through here and there was no real reason to go up there. It was going to be bypassed. He sent, quote, "a reconnaissance in force up there to take a look at it." But, their orders were to liberate that camp and get his son in-law out. Which they did. They lost a lot men doing it. I'll have other comments when we get to Schweinfurt. We're still in the Central Germany campaign going through little villages beyond the Rhine.
We continue on the Zimmer trip following the 11th Armored Division route through Europe. We'll have comments as we go through these little villages. Seeing these small farms here, and some of them with rather large barns. When we moved through this area, we would stop for the night at a farm or a farm village and ask the Germans to leave. We'd give them a half-hour to take anything they could carry. But, they were not to take any bedding because we wanted to sleep in clean sheets. So, we would go in their beds, spend the night, and then go on. We wouldn't take any of their bedding, we just wanted to sleep in beds in the house rather than in our sleeping bags out in the field. Well, we came to this one farm and told the farmer, the family, to leave. The farmer was objecting rather strenuously. We didn't pay much attention to him, we didn't understand him. He was waving his arms and everything else about our using his house. So, I went over to him, picked him up by the shoulders, walked to the window, stuck him out the window, and dropped him down to the ground.
We were only up one floor. He landed and he was running! We didn't get any other objection then about using their house. I don't know why. My being 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighing 200 pounds may have had something to do with it! I just picked him up rather gently by the shoulders, walked to the window, and dropped him out. It worked!
We're now in the town of Schweinfurt. To give you just a little background on it, this is a rather good size city. It was noted for its ball bearing factories. The Army Air Corps at that time bombed it repeatedly. But, it was beyond the range of the fighter planes so the Flying Fortresses, the B-17s, and the B-24s, used to have to come this way without fighter escort. They took a lot of losses. But, it was very important to eliminate the ball bearings because they needed those to build airplanes, build tanks, and what have you. So, this city was bombed, and bombed, and bombed. When we drove through it, I didn't see a single building, or even a wall that was higher than about four feet high. It was leveled. It was just piles of rubble all over the place. In fact, we had to use a bulldozer on one of the tanks to clear the way through it. When we were going through next to the railroad, some of the boxcars were still burning as we drove through. There wasn't anything left here. We just drove through and, it's just amazing. That's the only word I could think. That this has been rebuilt like a big city, and thriving again, when all I saw, as I said, were walls maybe four feet high. With one exception. There was a round smokestack with Dunlop on it, for Dunlop Rubber Company. That was the only thing standing, because being round, the blast effect of the bombs didn't knock it down. I was always concerned, or upset, that Dunlop, which I thought was an American firm, would have a factory over here in Germany. But, they did and you can see, I saw some of those tall smoke stacks here, but, this one we saw, had Dunlop written on it. That was the only thing standing in this whole city. You can see how big this city is and can just imagine nothing up more than four feet high.
In this part of the country, we were breaking through to the cities that are now along the East German-West German border. We'll get up to Coburg and we won't have to go through it. But, I remember when we drove through that city, we liberated a large number of slave laborers from France and Holland. When we drove through the city, all these people were suddenly free. They just crowded the sidewalks and welcomed the Americans and the tanks. They just swarmed all over us. They were so friendly. I know a couple of tanks gave rides to some of the young Dutch or French girls, or what have you, for a mile or two. Then, they got out of the tanks, because they were not suppose to be in the tanks at all. But, they were very friendly. Our tank didn't have any. The driver couldn't have one.
Most of the times during the war, we slept on the ground in our bedrolls right next to the tank. We'd take a tarp and sometimes just lay it on the ground, put our bedrolls on it, and then bring the tarp over the top of us. That's what we did during the Bulge when it was real cold, when we could sleep out. If it wasn't cold, we attach the tarp to the side of the tank and use it as sort of a overhead covering and put our sleeping bags under it. In heavy combat, such as during the Bulge, we had to sleep in the tanks. That was very cold and very uncomfortable. I remember once, not once, several times, when I woke up in the morning and there'd be a half to three quarters of an inch of frost on the inside of the tank. My right shoulder, hip, and knee would be just so stiff from the cold, it could hardly move. But, we'd have to stay in the tanks and wait until something developed. It was too dangerous to get out and we didn't have time to get back in if we had to move out. Sometimes, the inconvenience of that is that, when the calls of nature came, it was difficult to take care of them. We had an escape hatch to take care of that or empty ammunition cans. Sometimes, like in this area, we were driving very hard and fast. We went a couple of weeks with only eating K-rations. So, that when we would get to a town, we'd be very hungry for fresh food. Any chicken or anything that came by, was fair game and we just grabbed it.
These are the kinds of little towns that I mentioned. When we were driving through, they had to put up white flags, or fly sheets or pillow cases, so, we'd know that they were surrendering. If they were surrendering, we didn't stop. If they didn't surrender, then the whole Division would stop. This was like that little town that I mentioned where they had white flags showing, but, that they ambushed our armored car and we took out the whole town then. But, most the time, when they put up the white flags they meant it and we just sailed right through. One of the towns that we will be going through later today is Kulmbach. That's the town where we were cut off because we had gone so far that our supply lines couldn't keep up with us. The Germans had let the Armored Division go through and then the infantry had to fight their way back through to us. They cut them off.
Just north of here, in what is now East Germany, were two towns we went through called Zella Mehlis and Suhl. In Zella Mehlis, we captured a Walther Arms Factory where they made the P-38 pistols and also rifles. Especially, rifles with telescopic sights for snipers. Our company captured it and we got all sorts of large bushel baskets full of pistols and so on. It was funny, when we got there, we bivouacked right around the factory and slept inside of it. But, when we were on guard duty, every time the wind blew a shutter or there was any noise at all, our machine would open up. We had everyone in the area scared to come near it because we were so trigger-happy. Any noise around it, because we thought they were going to take that factory away from us. A guy in B Company, he was a staff sergeant, his name was Daniel Boone. He was a direct line descendant of the famous Daniel Boone of American Colonial times. For a while, he was in A Company with us as a platoon sergeant.
He was a very crude individual. He would lie, cheat, and steal from anybody and everybody. But, he was old Army, he'd been in the Army 15, maybe 18 years. We were very happy when he transferred to B Company. However, because he was old Army and because he had a famous name, they gave him credit for capturing, or leading the capture, of this arms factory. That gave them an excuse to give him a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant. We couldn't understand or believe why a guy who had so little ethics or morality would be made an officer. I think Colonel Wingard just wanted to recognize him and get on his good side or whatever, because he was a real... Well, the language I want to use isn't appropriate for polite company, so I won't use it now. We were glad to get rid of him. If he disagreed with you at any time, he was ready to fight right then, take you out behind the barracks, and beat you up. He did that with guys who were only half his size. In fact, he preferred it that way.
In the other town there, of Suhl, that's were I picked up my shotgun. We collected all the firearms in the town--shotguns, rifles, sporting guns, whatever. We couldn't permit them to have them behind us, so, we just piled them in the middle of the road and drove our tanks over in order to wreck them. So, when we were done, there was just a pile of scrap guns there. That 12-gauge shotgun I brought home was a custom made gun. It was too good to wreck like that, so, I put that in the tank and got it home.
You see signs on this road to a town call Hof. That is a little bit north and east of here in Czechoslovakia. We actually got there and were the first American troops into Czechoslovakia, but, we had to pull out. If you look at a map, it's just across the line from Germany. Because the agreement was that the Russians were suppose to get credit for liberating Czechoslovakia. But, we were actually in there, got to Hof, and then our orders were changed. We then had to go south into Austria. So, we were moving slightly north, then mostly east, got to Hof, then we turned and headed south. That's where we are starting to pick up the towns that we'll be going through, of Kulmbach, Bayreuth, and on farther south.
In Kulmbach, I remember we were driving through, like on this road. We really couldn't see where other parts of the division were, but, they were on both sides of this valley. The trees pretty well hid them from view. This was in early April, I believe. As we got close to town, some German officials decided to leave by flying out in an airplane. It was a small cabin military transport aircraft. We started to fire our machine guns at this airplane from our tanks. Everybody went to a machine gun and started shooting at it. All of a sudden, all around the valley, you saw tracer fires from machine guns going at this airplane. Because it was flying very low, we couldn't see the half-tracks and the tanks in the trees here, but, there they were. We saw the tracers coming up. That little airplane flew right through it and as far as we know, he got away. I've never seen so many machine guns shooting at one airplane in my life! But, he just flew out of here trying to escape, because we were ready to capture the town.
In Kulmbach, this is where we were cut off for about three days. The Germans had let the Armored Division come through and then cut off our supply route. The infantry had to go back to clear it and run an armored column to support the trucks for the supplies to get in. We had run out of gas here. We had plenty of ammo and had too much firepower for the Germans to attack us. But, we had to stay put. The Germans did attack us by air one day, what we called "Bed Check Charlie." He came just at dusk and machine-gunned us. I remember when it happened. We had to all make a real fast dive underneath the tanks because we were just standing around cleaning them when this German aircraft flew over and started machine gunning. So, we dove under the tanks, then he was gone.
Also, in Kulmbach there were several warehouses of butter, beef, and things like that. We hadn't stopped to do much other than drive for the past two weeks. This was now about the middle to end of April, when we had time here. We also had food! They brought a case of eggs around for each platoon. That's 30 dozen eggs for 25 men, along with a big piece of beef, from which we could cut steaks. This was where I made that, sort of notorious effort of having 18 eggs for breakfast, 18 eggs for lunch, and 18 eggs for supper, for a total of 54 eggs that day. Of course, we had steak and onions with it. I don't remember having any potatoes, just eggs and steak. It tasted real good after having only K-rations for two weeks.
I remember another incident here, where John Sport was cleaning a cannon and he forgot to unload it. As he was cleaning up the gear on the inside of the tank, he hit the firing button--and Boom! He was fortunate he didn't kill somebody accidentally. It just actually flew into a roadblock that happened to be near there and blew that apart. It certainly surprised everybody when that 76 went off and surprised Sport more than anyone else. Those are my memories of Kulmbach. This is a city now. At that time, it was nothing more than a big town. This is fantastic, it's just so grown up, I don't understand it. It's so big, modern, and industrialized here.
In Bayreuth, it was one of the scariest times for a tanker because this was the only time during the war where we had to dismount and fight on foot. We were going through downtown Bayreuth in an area of parks. They had very picturesque stone bridges over lakes, waters, rivers, and so on. These were all damaged, so, we couldn't take our tanks over them. So, we had to get out of our tanks, take our submachine guns, disperse, and fight like infantry. We didn't like doing that. It had been a long time since we had done anything like that. Basic training, in fact. We approached this hospital where there were British pilots who were prisoners of war. They had been wounded and were recovering. Some of them were in pretty good shape. Well, we approached the hospital expecting all sorts of problems, but, we took it without firing a shot. The hospital attendants surrendered as soon as they saw us. They weren't about to tackle us. We were just as happy. We're real tough when we're in a tank, but, not so tough when we're walking exposed, with only a machine gun between them and us. Anyhow, they surrendered. This was at the point where we lost all those P-38s we had captured up at Zella Mehlis. Orders came down for us to give the British soldiers all excess weapons that we had. All our excess weapons were those P-38s. So, we armed the Brits with the P-38s. They took charge of the German prisoners that we captured and we left Bayreuth to go on.
I hope that you'll get some idea where we were as we go through the city here. It's the home of Richard Wagner, the great composer who wrote many of the German operas. It's very heavy music--classical. But, very important to the German culture.
After the war was over and I was working at Herzl Junior College in Chicago. A good friend of mine who taught German there, her name was Elizabeth Oettershagen. The other guys on the staff there always threatened to tell Elizabeth that I was the one that helped blow apart Wagner's hometown and she would never speak to me again. I don't know if they ever told her that I was part of the troops that captured Bayreuth. But, they always held that over my head. This was a very quaint town from what we saw of it. These gray stone bridges, the rivers, and lakes in this park-like setting were where we happened to be when we had to dismount, liberate that hospital, and free those allied airmen.
Here in Bayreuth on the grounds of the Huff Garten, which is the park where we had to dismount and fight on foot to capture a hospital. It looks very much like the park that we were in before. Of course, it's much grown up now, trees are bigger, and the buildings have changed. But, it looks like the area were we had fought. So peaceful and quite here now. They cleaned up the mess we left, very well.
We were driving through this area toward the end of April. We're within two or three weeks of the end of the war. In fact, I believe Hitler had committed suicide by now, but, I'm not sure of the date. Most of the resistance was disorganized and every once in a while we'd run into a pocket of SS troops who were fanatics about fighting. That's what happened in Weiden. In the film I've got at home, we show you how the city was burning from some of our tank fire on Weiden because we ran into resistance there. There are long stretches where we just were driving into. This is Southern Bavaria, going toward Austria. We were occupying territory and if we'd done more of this up north, we could have been in Berlin and the Russians wouldn't have been as far east into East Germany, as they were. This is the whole countryside and we just drove, drove, drove through here to get as far east in Europe as we possible could.
In Cham, I remember that we overran a German airfield and there were a lot of Messerschmidts and Focke-Wulfs there. They weren't flyable anymore, they were out of gas and so on. We shot them up pretty well. It was a large German airfield. That's about the most significant thing about Cham other than we were getting awfully close to the end of the war and still driving on toward Austria.
When we were driving on this road, we came to bridge like that, only we were on the road and the bridge was taking us across a big river and ravine. Just in front of our first tank, we were the fourth tank in line, the bridge raised up in the air in front of us and then dropped down. The Germans had blown the bridge just before we got on it. It was within 100 yards or so from our tank. It was just something like me, maybe, going over a bridge like that here, in fact. After that blew, we had to go down the side of the ravine, cross the river, and go up the other side. Well, in going down, Trevi had the tank in first gear, having the engine hold it because it was going down at a very steep angle, went down for a ways. Then it was sort of a plateau and then it dropped down again. Well, when he was on that plateau, he decided to shift out of first into third gear, and he got it into neutral. The tank was so heavy, it started to move so fast, and he couldn't get it into any gear. So, it went across that plateau and down again. We were freewheeling down the side of that cliff, right down to the bottom where that river was. Fortunately, it opened up a little bit at the bottom and he was able to control it enough to make a slight turn so he could run parallel to the river. It was the fastest we've ever been in that tank. It took all of Trevi's strength applying the break levers to hold any control, because it was a free wheeling tank! That was 30 to 40 tons of tank going down that.
We're very close to Reid, Austria, just about four kilometers. I was stationed in Reid immediately after the war was over. It was there that I first heard of my Dad's death. This was about the first of July. Dad had died the 1 6th of June. I remember that day very vividly of course. That morning, I had gone into Vienna with a truck convoy to have my glasses checked. I'd been in Vienna, had my eyes checked, they'd written out a prescription, and then in a couple of weeks I'd get my glasses. They were checking everybody who had been overseas that long for their glasses and bringing them up to date on it. While in Vienna, I had some free time waiting for the truck to bring me back. So, I visited St. Steven's Cathedral, which is a very large cathedral there. At that time, it was the world's 7th largest pipe organ. I was actually permitted to play it, I made noise on it. Let me correct that. In Vienna, I remember it pretty heavily devastated, just acres or square miles all most, of buildings that were down. The rubble had been just bulldozed and flattened out. But, it was in Reid, that I had heard about my Dad's death.
As we were going into Linz, it was on a very steep mountain road. The road in was bordered on one side by a railroad track and the other side by the steep side of the mountain. There was a narrow road, and coming toward us up the mountain as we were coming down, we met a group of about 15 to 20 bicyclists. They were in German uniforms and had a panzerfaust on their bicycles. This was a small anti-tank rocket. There's no way we could go, and we weren't going to turn around for them. They were coming up, so we had to scatter them with our machine guns. Some of them tried to go up the mountainside. They couldn't do that because it was just a steep cliff of rock. Others tried to drop down into the railroad track, and that was about a 5-foot drop. Later, we found out that they were all kids about 14 years old. That was sort of upsetting to us, very upsetting, in fact. Also, in going into Linz, we suffered about as many casualties the last week of the war as we did during the Bulge. There was a lot of heavy fighting by determined SS troopers who didn't want us to take Linz or didn't want us to be in Austria. There was quite a bit of heavy fighting. We ran into a lot of 88s that had been used as antiaircraft and they were able to bring them down and bring them to bear against our tanks. This was a rough fight, right at the end of the war.
From Linz to Mauthausen
The war was over on May 8th and in the Linz area, we had just been beyond Linz, here, when we got the word that the armies of Northern Germany had surrendered.
Naturally, that was an occasion for a wild celebration. We were real happy. We found some drinks. About 10:00 in the morning, we got the word the war was over. So, we started celebrating. About 11:00 that night, we got different word. That there were 52 Tiger tanks going to make a breakthrough to what was known as the Redoubt Area in these mountains. We were supposed to stop them. So, we had to make a blackout march with drunken drivers through these mountains to reach a point where we were to stop these 52 Tiger tanks. The Tiger tank is a big tank! Fortunately, when we got to where they were suppose to be, they weren't. It had just been a rumor. But, they still had us move out and be prepared to fight them there. That was sort of a scary postscript to the end of the war for us. After that, we were on the border. There's a buffer zone between the Russians and us. We manned that outpost, just out in the middle of nowhere, really. But, there we were able to see some Russian cavalry, the Cossacks. I think it may have been the last time anybody will ever see horse mounted troops. We saw them making a patrol.
There were about 12,000 German SS troops between us. They wanted to surrender to us. We were trying to get Mauthausen cleaned up so we could put them in there. But, it was such a mess, we wouldn't even put German SS in their place. We guarded the SS in an open field with a string of telephone wire around it. Maybe it was 3 or 4 acres in diameter. I remember there was a little stream running through it. They used that stream for their water; drinking, washing, and so on. We really didn't have facilities to feed, clothe, or take care of that many people. So, periodically, like every other day or every third day, we'd shoot a horse and drag it into the compound. They had to butcher that and use that for their food. Sometimes, they tried to escape. We had the place surrounded with machine guns. These were guys that we'd been fighting from the Battle of the Bulge, on. There's no love loss between us. There are no feelings of guilt or anything. If they tried to escape, it was like Rambo, and we said, "Make our day," and machine guns would open up. It was a different kind of experience guarding these guys. After they were moved out and put into a permanent camp, that's when we went back to Reid and eventually to Steyr, and waited our transfer to the Pacific.
While I was on outpost duty one day, a drunken Russian soldier came by. He was by far, the most intoxicated human being I've ever seen. Well, he had just raped and murdered a German woman. We disarmed him and turned him over to the MPs. I kept the 16-gauge shotgun that he used to beat the German woman to death. It was covered with brains and blood. Another day, a German major general came through our outpost to surrender his troops. We sent him to the rear. I disarmed him of a small 32-caliber pistol. I didn't get that home.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Austria
This is October 7, 1986. We're at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. Just about 42 years after it was liberated by the 11th Armored Division. First impression-it smells much better now. It had been a real stinking place. There were bodies piled high all over like cordwood and they were rotting and smelling. They were in wagons and everything else. The stone still looks as formidable and forbidding as it did then. !t's a real scary place. I forget the exact number, but, I know it was over 100,000 people died here. Maybe the correct word would be-they were murdered here. They were just eliminated. Worked to death in the quarries, starved, beaten, hung, shot, and mostly gassed. They couldn't work, they went to the gas chambers. This is a smudge on the history of humanity, not just the Germans. Of course, the Germans had primary responsibility. That any human can do this to others is pretty terrible. I hope our grandchildren will never permit this to happen again. We're going to find a gasthaus now, sleep for the night, and be back to you.
Here at Mauthausen, there were piles of clothing, as well as piles of bodies. They were stacked like cordwood, in wagons and everything else around here. The stench here was terrible, as these bodies were rotting. The people were worked to death and if they were too sick to work, those prisoners who were stronger robbed the sick prisoners of their clothes. First their shoes then anything else. If they were too sick to resist, they just got sicker and died. Of course, the Germans didn't mind that, if they saved them the trouble. The story the prisoners were told was that they were going to be given a shower. They should fold their clothes very neatly and put on the bench there, and when they came out of the shower, they would have clean clothes. Well, the showers were gas chambers and nobody ever lived to come out of there. These clothes were then distributed to new prisoners as they were coming in. Most of them came by train, from the train station down the hill and were usually forced to walk up here under guard. And yet, the people in town claimed that they didn't know anything about what was happening here. Didn't know that this was a concentration camp, didn't know that people were dying, and yet, for at least two miles around, you could smell the place. Because the stench was something terrible.
The concentration camp was originally built as a prison. Then they expanded it as a concentration camp. They've also probably had reduced it considerably from the size it was. Now, my recollection is that those two towers there were the gas chambers. We may find out differently when we get inside. Those towers there, are what were the gas chambers. I don't know about these two here, but, I think those wider ones were. Except for the history of this place, this could be a beautiful setting overlooking the valley of the Danube River. There's sort of a haze over the valley now. The sun is starting to go down.
We're inside Mauthausen. Many of the barracks have been taken down, but, they have an example of them here. This whole field in front of us had been covered with barracks. We made a count, it was over 225,000 people, mostly of Eastern Europeans, who died here. Among them were 19 Americans. They were from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Spain, Italy, a few from Germany, and a few from Austria who were anti-fascist. It was a killing ground.
In barracks here, that the American Army would have had about 25 to 30 people, the concentration camp planned on 250 and often had as many as 500. These bunks usually held 2 or 3 people each instead of 1. They'd be small for one person. They were double bunks, so, there could be 4 to 6 people on each of these. These people were always cold and always hungry. There's no heat in here at all.
NOTE: Most of the following text is taken from displays and signs located throughout the concentration camp.
The Quarantine Camp: This block of huts 16 to 20, was used for newcomers. In October 1941, some 3,500 Soviet POWs reported from 16th to 19th. Officers, NCOs, and members of the Intelligencia whose execution had been postponed. They had to do the hardest work in the quarry and were killed within a few months.
In 1943, experiments in the field of inoculations were carried out on some 2,000 prisoners and from December 1, 1943 until July 31, 1944, 370 prisoners had to undergo nutrition experiments in Block 16. About half of the victims did not survive the experiments. Until March 1943, Hut 20 was used as a camp hospital and from April 1944 onward, a special prison for K-bullet prisoners. In Hut 19, weak and old prisoners were collected from 1941 to 1943. They had to stand in front of the hut from morning until night and thus completely debilitated, either died on the spot or in the gas tower, a movable gas chamber, or in the gas chamber at Harthiam. In 1945, female prisoners were housed in Huts 16 through 19. In 1968, 9,800 exhumed corpses from the Marbach Mass Grave and prisoners who died after their liberation were buried in this place. May they rest in peace.
This is Block 20: Originally meant as newcomers' block. It was later turned into a sick room. However, it gained a special reputation in March 1944, when it was surrounded by a wall of stone with two watchtowers. Here, the K-prisoners, chiefly officers and NCOs of the Soviet Army were quartered. "K" stood for a codeword for bullet. The SS let K-prisoners die from starvation. On February 2, 1945, 500 prisoners escaped from this hut. Except for 17 or 18, they were all recaptured and killed.
In this area of the Quarantine Hut at Mauthausen, there are over 10,000 people buried in each of the mass graves. These crosses and monuments are obviously for large numbers of people, not individuals. Primarily Eastern Countries--Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, and so on erected these monuments.
We're still walking through the museum where they have photographs of the other concentration camps in Europe. Mostly in Germany or Poland--Bukenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz. There are 6 or 7 of them represented here. They have the photographs of how the prisoners were treated, how thin and sick they were. It was, even little children are just skin and bones. You can just see their big eyes and thin arms. It is a very sad memorial. The pictures of the prisoners in the cellblocks, just skin and bones, crowded in together. Picture after picture of that. In this setting, looking upon the grounds of the prison camp, it's hard to imagine what happened here and yet, the evidence is all around that it did happen.
Corner for Neck Shots: In this semi-dark room, opposite to a crematory stove, was an implement for neck shots, some sort of height measuring gadget. The shot was fired at the victim standing in front of a measuring gadget through a slot, which allowed the headboard to be moved up and down.
The Iron Gurter: Below the iron gurter, which was used as a gallows, stood a folding table. Hundreds of persons of all nationalities, primarily Soviet citizens and Jewish, were put to death here.
The Gas Chamber: The gas chamber was camouflaged as a bathroom by sham showers and water pipes. Kylgon "B" gas was sucked in and exhausted through a shaft in the corner on the right in the operating room into the gas chamber. The gas conduit was removed shortly before liberation on April 4, 1945.
The first crematory from May 5, 1940 to May 3, 1945. This crematory stove, the first in Mauthausen, was in action.
On the 6th and 7th of September 1944, 40 Dutch and 7 British Special Agents who had been dropped above German occupied territory, cruelly were put to death by the Nazis. Their bodies were burned in the crematorium. At the risk of their lives, Yugoslav and Russian prisoners buried the ashes of these war heroes at this place. This was placed here by the Netherlands War Graves Foundation.
This is the Camp Jail: The camp jail, called Bunker, some 4,600 women and men were imprisoned from Winter 1939-40 to April 1945. About 4,200 of them were assassinated by gas, shooting, or hanging. In 1944 and 1945, very high ranking persons were also kept in this prison.
This is Barracks 2: This describes the accommodations for the prisoners. Each prisoner's hut was called a block. This was calculated for 200 inmates, in most cases 300 to 500 prisoners were confined in one block. Frequently, up to 2,000 prisoners were quartered in the quarantine lodgings, that's Blocks 16 to 25, in one hut. The huts were subdivided into "A" rooms on the left and B" rooms on the right. Each room consisted of a recreation and a sleeping room. In some barracks, prisoners were not allowed to stay in the recreation room and anyone who entered the room with food was punished. In the middle of the hut, were the lavatory and bathroom. It was in the lavatories, as prisoners were educated to obey discipline in camp, placed naked under the shower bath. Exposed to a stream of cold water, the victim often died of inflammation of the lungs.
There had been an electric fence. It was a double electric fence with wires on both sides of it to prevent prisoners going from one area to another. I don't see that here today.
In Block 1, since July 1942, on the left, the camp brothel for about 10 prostitutes. Canteen and workshop for motorcycles in the middle, on the right, the camp office, and behind it a workshop for personal requirements of the SS. In addition to it, there was a Cobbler's workshop. The camp office held the record of all prisoners of this camp. The brothel and prostitutes, of course, were for the use of the SS, not for the prisoners.
The Wailing Wall: Here, newcomers were lined up. It was here, that certain prisoners had to stand for hours, even days, with their faces to the wall. They were chained to the iron rings on the wall.
In the upper part of this hut was the Laundry: Beneath it was a bathroom for the prisoners as well as a room for disinfection. In the bath, sick and old prisoners were exposed to a stream of cold water and killed.
The Chapel: Memorial room is in this part of the hut today. In the chapel here, I'm a little bit surprised that it's a Christian chapel rather than Jewish chapel. As, many of the people who died here were Jews. I don't see any place provided for them to pay their respects. I'm surprised at that.
The Entrance Gate of the Camp: This gate was the only entrance to the camp. The wooden platform between the towers up above was used by the guards inside the tower. To the south, there was a duty room for the SS NCOs on duty. This room was called the Urhaus or Day Room. Here, the prisoners were checked while marching in and out. The iron chain was used to fasten the open gate. The SS made it an implement of torture. It was put around the neck of a victim, contracted several times by jerks until the prisoner suffocated.
The areas of the memorials are terrace areas with memorials from the various countries for the citizens of their country who died here. On these terraces, where we dug mass graves with the bulldozers and then had the local people come in and bury the dead. There are thousands of people buried here. After the war, these countries each put a memorial to their people. There are French, Italian, Ukrainian, there are Russian. The Russians have large memorials here. Luxembourg and American. But, these people in these mass graves, of course, the corpses were put in the ground very quickly, because we couldn't wait to identify them. We had to get them buried for sanitation reasons, because typhus and cholera were eminent.
As we are about to leave Mauthausen, it's important to keep in mind that over 225,000 people were put to death here for no reason other than their religious or political beliefs. This is the story of fascism. The story of why, really, we went to war in World War II--to stop this. Unfortunately, I'm afraid each generation is going to have to do the same thing.
Getting in our car to leave Mauthausen, Cindy asked what we did when we first got here? There were two very critical things that had to be done. First, to feed and take care of the living with medicine and food. But, the food had to be administered very sparingly because too much food would kill them. The prisoners were in such weakened condition. We had to make up a thin gruel of oatmeal and bouillon, and juice if we had it. The other major problem was getting all the dead corpses into the ground because of the threat of typhus and other disease. This was a major task as there were thousands of bodies here. Many of them stacked like cordwood.
We weren't prepared for it, we didn't expect anything like this. We also found that many of the dead had been buried around in the countryside. The Germans attempted to hide them in various places. Some of them were just dumped down in wells, which would have contaminated the water of a local farm. It was a long process to recover all the bodies that were killed here.
Over the entrance to Mauthausen, there had been a big sign, which translated means, "Work Makes You Free." When really, the only thing that freed these people was death.
Waiting to go Home
The war in Japan was over. I went up to the 90th Infantry Division at Furth am Wald and then eventually to Nurnberg where we were supervising the demolition of German ammunition in Furth. I got a pass for seven days to visit Switzerland, just got back from that and had my orders to go to Cherbourg to start on the way home. I had a delay in route where I could spend three days in Paris.
The Trip Home
On December 17, 1945, I boarded the ship, the Norway Victory, and started home. I thought my adventures were pretty much over at that point. Accept that the North Atlantic in the end of December was in a middle of a winter gale. We had a very rough crossing going into Norfolk, Virginia. I was sick 11 of the 11 and 1/2 days that we were aboard ship. Literally, I saw waves 60 and 80 feet high. Much bigger than that ship was. We were going up and down. It was very easy to be seasick, and I was very seasick. My bunk was in the forward hull on D-deck. That's as low as you could go and as far forward as you could go. I remember the anchor room was right next to the bunk in front of us. The anchors would go up and then bang down. It sounded like a 90mm going off. You'd have to hold onto the bunk because when you'd be going up, the bunk would drop out from under you and you'd be in mid air. It was a very trying crossing. That's how I spent Christmas 1945. They had turkey and all the fixings there to eat. But, I didn't even eat a hard-boiled egg or a couple of crackers.
I'm going to mention a very vivid remembrance that wasn't too pleasant. And if you have a queasy stomach, turn the tape off now. I was so sick, well, let me back up. I said I was in D-deck, the lowest down, two decks up on B-deck were the latrines. However, the urinals were gravity operated and in this kind of a sea, gravity wasn't working. So, the slop from that would slop onto the floor and they just had open grates. That would come down the stairways on down to D-deck where we were. So, it was a stinking mess! One time I was heaving because I had dry heaves, wet heaves, and everything else. I was on my knees, holding a garbage can, a regular G.l. can, with both arms around it, and that was sliding back and forth across the deck. I didn't care if I lived or died. That is probably one of the worst experiences I had in the whole war, as far as personal discomfort. I think I remember that worse than being cold in the Bulge, almost having your feet frozen. Those are some final remembrances I have of the war, how we wrapped it up, and how we went home.
After The War
I was discharged from the Army on January 6, 1946. In early February, I returned to the College at Brockport, New York, for the start of the Spring term. It was great seeing all the guys coming home. I was in a hurry to complete my education and get started on my career. I knew what I wanted and how to get started. Using the G.l. Bill, I earned three degrees--a B.Ed. from Brockport, and an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. From June 1942, when I graduated from high school until June 1950, when I received my Ph.D., I had spent 3 years in service, earned 3 college degrees and got married. My career included founding three community colleges as their president and earning a commission in the USAF Reserves, being promoted to the rank of full colonel. These would have been impossible without the support of the woman who earned her PHT (Putting Hubby Through) degree, was a college president's wife, the colonel's lady, mother of our 2 fantastic children, and grandmother of our 4 super grandchildren. Without my wife; partner; and love of my life, none of this would have been possible or as much fun.
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