Kenneth W. Moeller
The convoy had arrived in
Liverpool. We had been on the Atlantic for fourteen days after leaving New York.
Our ship was an old passenger liner named SAMARlA-plying between the British
Isles and India in peacetime. It was September 1944. For several days we had
seen and heard our destroyers moving back and forth on the horizon discharging
The feeling of safety on
reaching land again was good ... and the anticipation of leaving the restricted
life of a troopship was good. As Uncle Charley said: "You wanted to travel
the worst way ... and you did!" When we embarked in New York the
Headquarters Company of the 11th Armored Division was assigned a section in the
bow on the bottom of the ship-two decks below the water line. I know I am
describing our location in land-lubber terms, but, believe me, it was dark down
there, and it was stuffy down there, and, in case of a submarine attack, it was
dangerous down there.
The soldiers of a Division
Headquarters Company are selected very carefully. The G-1 Section mulls over
Personnel Files very thoughtfully before an assignment is made to a General
Staff Section. And I am sure the Headquarters Company personnel expected a more
congenial location for the journey to England.
During the war a constantly
recurring sign on billboards, train stations, and other public places appeared:
"IS THIS TRIP NECESSARY?" It was a reminder for the civilian section
to save power of all types: gasoline, electricity, etc. The strain on our
railroads was particularly heavy.
The Headquarters Company
was guided down to their home on the ship. In the darkness a voice piped up:
"Is this trip necessary?" It drew a good laugh. Someone has said that
man is the only animal with a sense of humor. I don't know about that, but I do
think that man is the only animal that can laugh at himself under conditions of
discomfort and danger.
At mealtime one man with a
tray large enough to handle ten meals was sent up to the galley to get food and
return to his section, where the men used their own mess kits to get their
portions. Considering the motion of the ship and the trip down two flights of
stairs, the food was entirely mixed up by the time it reached the men.
The Officers took turns
standing watch at night on the lower decks. One night I drew the midnight shift
and a friendly Limey sailor asked: "Would you like something to eat?"
In a few minutes he came back with a white bread sandwich containing the
greasiest, fattest piece of bacon I had ever seen—to say nothing of the odor.
I thanked him for his thoughtfulness and watched him disappear—whereupon I
quickly deposited the sandwich in a garbage can.
The SAMARIA slowly docked,
and on the wharf was a little gang of urchins—aged eight to fourteen. These
gangs of urchins were to become a common sight on the Continent, too. Their
fathers were away soldiering—or dead—and it was anyone's guess where the
As we leaned over the rails
watching the docking process they called up to us: "Hey Yonk—how about a
cigar, r. root?" A G.I. in our group called down: "You are too young
to be smoking!" The lad called up: "It's fur.r.r me POP!" So the
G.I. threw down about four cigarettes which were grabbed immediately—the lad
initiating the request being one of the winners. He proceeded to pull out a
match and light the cigarette. The G.I. called down: "Hey, I thought you
said it was for your Pop!" The lad replied: "AAAH—fook Pop!"
We entrained at Liverpool
and headed south. At every hamlet there were people waving a welcome to the
Troop Train. There were housewives hanging out of second-story windows
waving-little kids in the streets waving. It happened all day long. We felt
welcome and needed. It was a heart-warming introduction to England.
The 11th Armored Division
was assigned a camp located on the Salisbury Plains near the town of Bath in
southwestern England-where the British Armored Divisions had trained. But I was
ordered to report to United Kingdom Base (U.K. Base) and function as a Liaison
Officer between U.K. Base and the 11th Armored Division.
Actually the assignment was
no surprise to me. My official job was Liaison Officer to the Chief-of-Staff of
the Division, who is the #2 man in the Chain of Command-answering directly to
the Commanding General and responsible for carrying out all orders of the
Commanding General. The Chief-of-Staff presides over four General Staff
Sections: G-1, Personnel; G-2, Intelligence; G-3, Operations and Training; and
G-4, Supplies and Ordinance. In training stateside I had been "loaned
out" to the G-4 Section for several months-helping with the rail movements
of the Division from Louisiana to Texas, from Texas to the California desert,
from the desert to Camp Cooke (Lompoc, Cal.), and then checking in equipment for
overseas delivery at the Army Depot at Horseheads, N.Y. before the Division
embarked. At U.K. Base my job would be to check in this equipment coming off of
several succeeding convoys and to direct it to the 11th Armored Division at
their Salisbury Plains location. So, I was familiar with the G-4 Staff Officers
and personnel and it was, therefore, a logical assignment for me.
The Division settled into
their Salisbury Plains location, and I reported to U.K. Base in London. The
Liaison Section of U.K. Base was located in Grosvenor Square which is a
wonderful location for a newcomer to London. Leaving the Square northward you
enter an attractive park, to one side of which is the palace of the King and
Queen; southward, the Square empties into a boulevard which leads past
Claridge’s-the most famous hotel in town at that time; eastward a couple of
blocks puts you on Oxford Street right where Selfridge's, the famous department
store, is located. At the present time the U.S. Embassy has a Grosvenor Square
In 1944, Grosvenor Square
consisted of substantial three-story apartment houses in red brick with white
columns and trim. The apartment houses had been converted into office spaces by
knocking out some of the walls in each building so that you had a bowling alley
effect, but ample space for a lot of desks. They left the kitchens and bathrooms
I was assigned a desk and
introduced to the U.K. Base Officers who presided over this Section. I met my
like numbers from the 87th Infantry and 99th Infantry Divisions who had arrived
in England about the same time as the 11th Armored.
The offices at U.K. Base
were staffed by English girls who served as secretaries and clerks. They spoke
excellent English with that happy, chirping sound that we Americans find so
interesting. Twice a day—precisely at 10 A.M. and 3:30 P.M.—World War
stopped dead at U.K. Base for intervals of thirty minutes each. That was Tea
I located the
Transportation Building, the source of information on convoy arrivals a couple
of blocks away—in the direction of Oxford Street. I was in business.
The Officers Mess was in
the vicinity of Grosvenor Square. At ground level one entered a Mezzanine Floor
and proceeded down a long flight of stairs to the Main Dining Room floor which
was huge. I never thought of the Dining Room as being in the basement—it had a
grandeur about it which suggested that, in peace time, it had been a large
ballroom and an exhibit hall for trade shows.
A Cash Bar and a
cafeteria-style food counter occupied one wall. The food counter offered just
about everything that a stateside economy could produce—meat, potatoes, eggs,
vegetables, cakes, ice cream, pies, fruits—even oranges and grapefruit. It was
the best restaurant in town.
After we were in London
awhile and learned about the wartime diet of the average Englishman we might
have felt a little guilty about the dietary treasure trove to which we were
exposed day after day—but the guilty feeling passed quickly. One night I was
invited to dinner at an English home. Upon arriving I gave the hostess a K
ration and an orange. She had not seen an orange in three years. The K ration
went to the kitchen—the orange found a place on the mantel with other works of
The Cash Bar was the usual
prelude to the evening meals. The prices of drinks were nominal and the quality
of Scotch and British whiskeys was excellent. But the main attraction of
spending some time at the Bar was to belly up alongside some Air Corps boys and
listen to them talk about their work day just completed. That day they had been
to war and back. That day they had been over Cologne, or Dusseldorf, or Hamburg.
At the end of that day some of the planes in their Wing had not come back.
Officers on Temporary Duty
at U.K. Base were billeted with civilians. I was given a street address and
general instructions as to how to reach it: down Oxford Street and then east
three squares, etc., etc. The address of my billet was about one and one-half
miles from Grosvenor Square in a very nice residential district of three-story
apartment buildings. I found the address, rang the bell, and a houseman opened
the door and invited me into a parlor where a charming, white-haired English
lady bade me welcome, and told me that I was to consider myself one of "her
boys." There were seven other Americans billeted with her. I was taken to a
second-floor bedroom facing the street, with a private bath and a nice fireplace
and plenty of blankets, and told that this would be my home for as long as
necessary. There was a telephone in the hallway on the first floor that I could
use to communicate with my Division.
Each night around 7:30 P.M.
the houseman would come in and build a fire in the fireplace—the fire lasted
about three hours. By that time you had better be in bed because that was the
last heat in the room until morning. What with maneuvers and field exercises we
had been living in the open so long that a cool room temperature was no problem.
And after living for months in Army Barracks a home atmosphere had a particular
About five or six weeks
into my duty at U.K. Base the Transportation Corps requested a current inventory
of vehicles and equipment received by the Division. I telephoned Red Williams,
Chief Warrant Officer of the G-4 Section, who presided over the enlisted men in
the Section, and gave him my request. Red Williams, an Alabama boy, was Regular
Army—he said he intended to stay in the Army after the war because he did not
want to become a civilian and have to pay for the war later. A couple of days
later—on a Tuesday—a messenger delivered the Division's current inventory
and I delivered it to the Transportation Building, one block south of Grosvenor
Square and a couple of blocks east, close to Oxford Street. The Transportation
Building was a solid brick structure of modem design—three stories tall and
occupying the space of two three-apartment buildings. Having delivered the
inventory, I thought "Mission accomplished."
Not quite. At 3 A.M. on
Wednesday a V-2 bomb struck the Transportation Building. Luckily, at that time
of the day there was no one on duty, and consequently, no casualties.
I telephoned Red Williams
on Wednesday afternoon and requested another copy of the inventory. He asked
what the hell did I do with the first one—was I using it for toilet paper? I
told him I could not discuss it over the phone. Just trust me—get me another
copy and preferably, get a jeep and come up to London with it personally.
Red Williams delivered the
second inventory on Thursday and I walked him over to the former address of the
Transportation Building. It had completely disappeared and all that was left was
a twenty-foot-deep hole in the ground.
During the Fall months of
1944 London was still getting an occasional V-1 bomb. These were bombs with
motors attached. They became targets for anti-aircraft fire and even fighter
plane fire. You would hear the motors of the bombs put-put-putting—when the
sound stopped it was time to start worrying because the bomb would then start
falling to the earth. The sites on the continent from which these bombs were
launched were gradually captured by Allied Forces and the threat of the V-1 bomb
The V-2 bomb was a
rocket—no warning—just sudden obliteration.
I recall walking to work
one morning. On the way I passed a block of nice apartment buildings in which a
V-2 bomb had dropped the night before. It had utterly destroyed one building and
the explosion had broken the windows of the other houses in the block. An
elderly man was sweeping up the shards of glass from his front sidewalk
murmuring quietly: "What a shame—oh, what a shame."
The English theatre became
a regular source of entertainment. I had located a supplier of good seats (at a
price) and spent three or four nights a week seeing everything offered. On each
stage was a sign: AIR RAID IN PROGRESS—it blinked red when hostile planes were
over London. I did not ever see anyone leave his seat to take shelter during a
The V-1 and V-2 bombs
created a homeless population in London of over 300,000 people. There was a
great deal of doubling up in apartments among relatives and friends, but the
bulk of the homeless spent their nights sleeping in the London subways. The
subways stopped running at 10:30 P.M. The sides of the subway platforms had been
equipped with three-deck and two-deck bunks—they extended from the walls,
leaving a narrow aisle for passengers to get on and off the trains. At night one
had to be careful to keep from stepping on a sleeper.
The Public Houses (Pubs) of
England were a pleasant surprise in contrast to typical American bars which too
often are dreary places with quiet, solitary figures hunched over drinks.
The Pubs were well lit
(with blackout shades at the windows) and the atmosphere was that of a
neighborhood club complete with dart board. Adults of all age groups were
there—equally divided among men and women—except for males of military age.
The "regulars" would spend a few hours in the evening talking to
friends, seated at round tables accommodating six or eight people, nursing along
a stein of beer for the duration of the evening. At least that was the format at
the Pub I frequented in the neighborhood of my billet. Two of the regulars with
whom I became acquainted were cab drivers, veterans of World War I. I learned a
lot from them about England, Europe, and world politics. They were too polite to
come right out and say this to me but, if they had, it would sound something
like this: "You Americans are a puzzle to us. Obviously you are intelligent
and well-educated in a scholastic sense, but you are so poorly informed about
Europe and world politics. You are going to have to shape up in these categories
when World War is over."
Every G.I. visiting England
heard about Piccadilly Circus. It is the hub of a number of streets radiating
out from it. At its center is a fountain and statue of Eros, as I recall, and a
sidewalk circling the fountain with storefronts opening out on the sidewalk.
At night, under blackout
conditions, there was an eerie atmosphere about the place. Walking along the
sidewalk the figures in front of you looked like floating shadows. Every so
often a shadow would float out from a store front and ask: "Hey, Yank—how
about a party?" There were a large number of party girls working Piccadilly
Circus each night.
The blackness and the
silence were broken mainly by murmurs, but, on occasion, you could hear a G.I.
squawk: "Five pounds? I came over here to save your ass—not buy it!"
Or two young G.I.s might break the silence with an observation such as:
"For Chrissake Bill, England is nothing but a floating whorehouse!"
It was now November. The
vehicles for the Division had been unloaded from several succeeding convoys and
were now delivered. There was not much left for me to do at U.K. Base except
keep my eyes open for new equipment which might be added—equipment
manufactured in England.
One such item was a
transparent plastic map-holder which was waterproof and held a map in place
without danger of tearing or drenching. I ordered map holders for every tactical
Officer in the Division. And later, in combat, it was my secret pleasure to see
Officers come in for orders—using the map holder. They marked the position of
resupply of rations, ammunition, and gasoline—and Rally Point in case the
attack foundered—with grease pencils on the plastic holder, thus saving the
map. In case of imminent capture they could rub the grease marks off with a
swipe of their sleeve.
The other item which came
to my attention was "Duckbills." Duckbills were metal extensions to
the treads of tanks—increasing the width of the tank tread so that the tank
could traverse muddy, swampy terrain without having the narrow treads dig
themselves in and belly up the tank to render it immobile. I ordered enough
duckbills to outfit every tank in the Division. There will be more said about
duckbills when the Division gets into the combat area.
In early December the order
came to move the 11th Armored Division to the Continent. I said good-bye to U.K.
Base and joined the Division on the Salisbury Plains.
Our Armored columns started
the move to Southhampton, where the U.S. Navy would take charge and carry us
across the English Channel to Cherbourg.
At Southampton we drove our
vehicles onto an LST (Landing Ship Tank) and put ourselves in the care of the
The next two days were very
pleasant. We had no responsibilities, the accommodations were adequate, a coffee
pot was always brewing in the galley, and the food was excellent. For the
evening meal we had a standing rib roast. This was a plateau or two above Army
The English Channel from
Southhampton to Cherbourg was an overnight trip—not the narrow twenty miles or
so from Dover to Calais. The LST landed the next day at Cherbourg, which showed
signs that fighting had taken place to secure this port. And then we were told
that the Division was ordered south to St. Nazaire.
St. Nazaire is a seaport on
the Atlantic located south of the Brittany peninsula that the Germans had
developed as a very important submarine base. The base supplied U-Boats
operating from the English Channel to the Rock of Gibraltar, with docking and
technicians of various kinds and supporting Infantry units to protect the base
we estimated about 30,000 to 40,000 German troops were in that area.
To keep these troops penned
up and useless to the German war effort further east an American Division was
assigned to this task. We were to replace an American Infantry Division which
was headed east to the main action.
It was an attractive
initial assignment. Our Armored Infantry units would get practice patrolling and
getting shot at occasionally with deadly intent and our Division would get the
feel of operating in a combat zone.
It was December, and we knew that no German Army
had ever taken the field in a winter offensive since the time of Frederick the
Great. That meant it would probably be April or May before we would be ordered
east into the mainstream of combat effort.
We settled into a little village east of St.
Nazaire, set up our road blocks, and took our first taste of calvados, a liqueur
popular in that region. Division Headquarters was billeted in a little hotel and
I learned how to ask for the key to Room 41 in French. I figured by next April
or May I would speak French rather well.
We had been in St. Nazaire about a week when we
heard that something was happening in the Ardennes—something bad.
We had a sudden change of orders: Pack up and get
across France as soon as you can and assemble in the Namur-Liege area of Belgium
to defend Antwerp. Antwerp was the seaport that was supplying the British Forces
and the American First Army moving on northern Germany.
Col. Downer, our G-3, assembled an Advance Party
consisting of Col. Slayden, our G-2, Red Williams, representing G-4, various
Signal Company personnel to maintain communications with Division Headquarters
while we were moving, and myself.
Our little column consisted of seven or eight jeeps
and a two and one-half ton truck carrying signal equipment—CW radio
(continuous wave_ which sent out Morse Code signals capable of carrying many
miles. We were to travel in march order customary to armored units—vehicles at
thirty yard intervals with speed at a steady 35 miles per hour (compared with
the normal marching speed of 18 mph for tanks). We carried K rations and water
for meals en route.
We headed east across France. We passed about ten
miles to the south of Paris and saw the Eiffel Tower on the northern horizon.
Our signal truck got a
message that the 11th Armored Division had been assigned for duty with Third
Army, under the orders of VI Corps. Third Army was changing fronts—wheeling
ninety degrees from east to north, and attacking northward toward Bastogne to
strike the German southern flank. The Battle of the Bulge had started,
East of Paris the signal truck got another message. The
"duckbills" I had ordered at U.K. Base were en route via the Red Ball
Express to a French Army installation at Soissons. Red Williams agreed to
dispatch trucks from the Division to Soissons to pick up the duckbills.
My driver and I left Col.
Downer's Advance Party and headed for Soissons. Col. Downer's Party continued
northeast toward the Belgium border to contact VI Corps Headquarters. The French
Army installation at Soissons was a typical European permanent camp—wrought
iron gates, sturdy brick buildings, a large parade ground. There was a hospital
in operation and a fenced-in prisoner compound. The prisoners were "jail
birds" of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, left behind to face various
charges at Court Martial for everything from misdemeanors to serious crimes.
The Red Ball Express had done its job. There were three large piles of
duckbills dumped at the far end of the parade ground.
After a nail-biting
interval of time a string of two and one-half ton trucks rolled into the camp
and I saw the welcome white stenciled letters on the front bumpers indicating:
11th Armored Division—133rd Ordinance Maint. Bn. Good old Red Williams had
come through again. The Officer in charge of the prison compound had already
agreed to furnish the labor I needed to load the trucks and some prisoners were
marched out of the compound, under guard, and turned over to me.
They fell in—a single
line. I called them to attention and then gave them AT EASE.
Normally you would call
over the ranking Non-commissioned Officer, tell him what you wanted done, retire
to some nearby spot, and watch him carry out the orders.
I called out: "Who is
the ranking Non-Com here?" In answer, what I got was a chorus of
horse-laughs. A helpful young Airborne called out: "Lt.—there ain't no
ranking non-com here. We have all been busted back to buck-ass privates."
I replied: "All
right—then we do it by the numbers."
I called them to ATTENTION,
gave them the Order: "From right to left, by the numbers consecutively,
COUNT OFF." The consecutive numbers rippled down the line and I learned
that I had thirty-one men available for truck-loading. I walked slowly to Number
10 and called out: "Numbers 1 through 10, Right Step MARCH—Hut-two,
Hut-two, Hut-two, Hut-two Detail HALT." I walked to Number 21 and called
out: "Numbers 21 through 31—Left Step MARCH—Hut-two-Hut two-Hut-two
Hut-two—Detail HALT." I now had three groups to go with three piles of
duckbills. I assigned each group a pile to load into the trucks, which were
backed up conveniently, and my "jailbirds" went to work cheerfully.
The truck drivers and the
101st Airborne Guards requested and received permission to start a small bonfire
on the Parade Ground to warm up. They gathered some wood, including a wooden box
which was not examined too carefully.
The bonfire had been
burning for a few minutes when I heard an explosion and a painful yell. One of
the guards had greenish-yellow flames rippling across the back of his jacket. I
found myself sprinting toward him—just like a fast break in basketball—and I
was among the first to reach him and smother the flames with my own jacket, and
the jackets of others who came up almost at the same time. We took the guard to
The wooden box had
contained a white phosphorus grenade carelessly left in the box, which had
exploded when exposed to the fire.
The trucks were loaded
without further incident and sent on their way.
I visited the guard at the
hospital the next day and learned that he was going to be all right.
In retrospect I wondered
about my instant reaction which found me running toward the burning man, and
hoped that my instincts would hold up at such time as I might be fired on with
I left the camp on good
terms with my "jailbird" friends of the 101st Airborne and headed
northeast to rejoin the Division.
Col. Downer's Advance Party
was now two days ahead of me and the main body of the Division probably was two
days behind me, marching at 18 MPH and stopping for meals and resupply of
My driver and I headed
northeast toward the Belgian border—remembering that our original orders had
indicated an Assembly Point somewhere in the Namur-Liege area, west of the Meuse
River which runs roughly north-south in that area. We also remembered that we
had | been assigned to VI Corps. We started looking for vehicles with VI Corps
markings and found a truck so marked. The driver gave us a general idea where VI
Corps Headquarters was located.
We found VI Corps
Headquarters, went to the G-3 Section, and were advised that the Assembly Point
had been relocated further east—that we should head for Neufchateau. German
advance troops had reached the Meuse, but the Germans were not there in force.
Their resupply of rations, ammunition, and gasoline were being held up because
the road net was blocked and denied them at Bastogne.
The 101st Airborne and
remnants of a couple of U.S. Armored Divisions were holding Bastogne, and
fighting for their lives.
We headed in the direction
of Neufchateau, and at the roadside saw some disquieting signs such as:
"ALLIED DEAD COLLECTING POINT" and "ENEMY DEAD COLLECTING
POINT." We were leaving the zone of Fun and Games and entering the zone of
Before we left VI Corps we
were advised that German troops dressed in American uniforms were creating some
confusion in the areas behind the lines.
Around dusk we caught up
with the bivouac area of the 11th Armored Division Forward Headquarters, which
had added a few vehicles since our initial departure from St. Nazaire.
I saw the General's Section
halftrack and knocked on the side, expecting to see the head of Sgt. Davito or
Sgt. Anderson pop up. Instead, a round pink-complexioned head, complete with
blue eyes, popped up and asked: "Vot iss it you vant, Lt.?" I thought:
"My God. the General's halftrack has been infiltrated!"
It was Private First Class
Kort who had been assigned recently. He was an Austrian-born Jew who had come to
America when Hitler was shutting down Europe. His parents had decided to remain
in Vienna. The following May, after VE Day, General Dager gave Pfc. Kort
permission to don civilian clothes and "disappear" into the Russian
zone. He made his way to Vienna to track down his parents. Ten days later he was
back—not a trace of his parents.
I remember Christmas Eve
1944. The Division was at Guigincourt, France. It wasn't much of a town—what
distinguished it was a classic French Chateau—dramatic entrance between two
rows of great trees, formal gardens, impressive mansion, and a huge formal
dining room in which we were celebrating a Christmas Eve supper. For me the
supper was cut short when Col. Williams, the Chief-of-Staff (and my boss),
informed me that the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion had been assigned for duty
with the Division and was due to arrive that night—would I go out to the main
road and guide them to our area?
It was a clear night and my
driver and I sat on a hill overlooking some beautiful country. A couple of hours
passed and then we heard the low muttering sound of an armored unit on the move.
We went down to the highway and flagged down the leading vehicle. We met Major
John Dibble, in command of the 705th Tank Destroyer Bn.
Major Dibble was one of
those rare individuals who always looked freshly scrubbed and shaved, his
clothes impeccably clean, no matter what the circumstance.
Major Dugan, our Asst. G-4,
was a sharp-eyed Irishman from New York City and a lawyer in civilian life who
tacked nicknames on some of the Officers. For the duration Major Dibble was
known as DUSTLESS DIBBLE.
Major Dugan did not limit
his talents in that respect to Major Dibble. There was a Lt. Graf who had an
interesting profile who became NEEDLE-NOSE GRAF. And at that time a popular song
from south of the border entitled “Besame mucho” (Kiss Me Often) caught up
with Lt. Mousseau and for the duration he was addressed as BESSIE MAE MOSSEAU.
The Division moved up on
Neufchateau and lay in wait for orders, camouflaged and observing radio silence.
We were forth or fifty miles behind the expected jump-off point. There was no
reason to place an Armored Division close up and invite an air attack.
The only surprise in an
Armored attack is the specific point selected for the attack. Once committed,
you can hear and Armored column’s sullen drone for an hour-then the peculiar
clanking sound of the metal treads-then the roar of individual 400 horsepower
engines-then the tanks appear like a herd of elephants. When they form into a
line of attack-if you are on the receiving end-you have already dug your
foxholes a couple of feet deeper and buttressed your road blocks with additional
tree trunks. The, if you are lucky, you call for big artillery fire and a
bombing mission by your Air Force.
In the meantime, in the
zone east of us, a Combat Command (roughly one-third of a Division) of the U.S.
4th Armored Division under General Abrams had attacked up the Luxembourg-St.
Vith road and blasted their way into Bastogne. Whereupon the Germans pinched off
the road and left that Combat Command stranded in Bastogne. From a morale
standpoint it was encouraging to the 101st Airborne to see that their rescue was
very much on the minds of Third Army, and the presence of the 4th Armored did
represent additional fire power (assuming the ammunition they carried lasted
long enough), but from a military standpoint the defenders of Bastogne were
still under siege. As before, the 101st were referring to themselves as the
“Battered Bastards of Bastogne”.
It was during this lull
before action that General Kilburn, commanding the 11th Armored, was summoned to
Supreme Headquarters (SHAEF) for a briefing.
General Kilburn came back
to the Division after the briefing wearing a worried expression. He had been
informed that the 11th AD and the 87th Infantry Division were the only Divisions
standing between the Germans and Paris, if they took it into their heads to move
in that direction. SHAEF was in touch with U.K. Base trying to get a third
Division on the field – the 17th Airborne- and that was it.
With the hindsight of more
than forty years we are now reading literature covering this period in which it
is stated that Supreme Headquarter never had a worry –that the Bulge was a
“mere incident.” Anyone believing that would believe in the Tooth Fairy.
Supreme Headquarters was scared stiff. At the time even General Patton was
quoted as saying: “Gentlemen, we can still lose this War.”
SHAEF was scared stiff and
they should have been. No one to this day can explain how the Germans could
assemble twenty-seven or thirty Divisions in the Ardennes without anyone on our
side being the wiser.
The Germans achieved
complete surprise and blew through our defensive positions in the Ardennes like
a tornado. Patton would have put it: ‘Like shit through a young goose.”
We saw the 28th Infantry
Division (the Pennsylvania Keystone Division) coming out of the line. There was
no regular march order –just one or two vehicles at a time- a couple of jeeps-
then five minutes later a string of five vehicles-then a couple of trucks-then a
couple of jeeps, one with a wounded soldier tied to the hood –etc. – all day
long. The drivers were half asleep and the passengers ere completely
asleep-completely fatigued. This was a Division that had taken a brutal
mauling-this was a Division that was shattered.
On December 29, 1944 the
Division Headquarters was located at Longlier, Belgium.
In anticipation of Attack
Orders, I had been out all day picking out likely spots for the various combat
units to bivouac in the area.
Around dusk, Lt. Keough
came in from Corps Headquarters with the Attack Order: The 11th Armored Division
and the 87th Infantry Division were to attack abreast, the 87th on the left, at
dawn on the next day (December 30) along the axis of the Neufchateau-Bastogne
Road. They were to relieve pressure on Bastogne, enter the city, and then
proceed northeast to Houffalize (about 20 miles) where contact was to occur with
units of the American First Army, advancing from the northern shoulder of the
Bulge. Contact with those units would effect the official end of the Bulge.
The glib wording of the
Attack Order regarding the results they expected from this attack would suggest
that this was going to be a piece of cake: in Bastogne the next day (December
30) and in Houffalize on the following day. Now let’s get back to the real
world: it was two weeks before we got units into Bastogne; it was January 16th
before there was a linkup at Houffalize.
The wheels began grinding
in G-3 Section. They had orders produced for the Combat Battalions by 9 PM; they
called in the Liaison Officers for distribution and explanation of Orders, and
by 11 PM the units were on the move to new assembly areas. The last unit did not
close in bivouac until about 2 AM on December 30th so you might say that the
11th Armored Division went into their first battle on the dead run. Suffice it
to say-this is not the way entry into battle is described in any Training
I had been out all day and
was too tired to worry about what would happen the following morning. I threw
down my bedding roll on the snow and went to sleep.
I was awakened a couple of
hours later by the sound of small arms fire from a unit directly to our west and
looked up into the sky to see a black shadow flying along the main road-it was a
German plane scanning our area. Then, to my surprise, another black shadow
following the German plane opened fire and destroyed the German plane. The
German pilot parachuted-but not to safety. A chorus of 30-calier machine guns
cut loose from vehicles in our area, and the German pilot was dead before he hit
A month later, a more
seasoned and professional group of soldiers would have allowed the German pilot
to land, taking him prisoner for questioning. But on the eve of the first battle
the adrenaline was flowing and a kind of quiet hysteria was in the air.
Dawn comes late in Belgium
in December, but by 7 AM our Combat Commands had jumped off in the attack. We
were glued to our radios following the wave lengths of our lead units. About 9
AM we had a report of our first casualties—two messengers in a jeep had run
over a land mine.
About 9:30 AM Col. Williams
wanted to see me. He explained that they could not locate the present position
of the 41st Tank Battalion by radio, and he wanted me, personally, to find the
Battalion an report its position as soon as possible. Col. Williams always used
the word “personally” when he gave me an Order. I could never decide whether
it showed his confidence in me or whether it was a perfunctory thing like ending
a letter with the word: “Yours truly.”
I told my jeep driver:
“Saddle up. You an I are going out there and find the 41st Tank Battalion.”
The road from Neufchateau
runs northeast toward Bastogne, some twenty miles away. We headed up this road
and about three miles later we passed the scene of our first casualties. The two
messengers in the jeep had run over a land mine. The jeep was now hanging in the
crotch of a roadside tree-fifteen feet off the ground. We made a mental note to
drive in the tracks of any vehicle that preceded us if at all possible.
We continued up the road.
It became very quiet. We were the only vehicle going that way. I started to scan
the sky front and back for the possible approach of an enemy fighter plane. We
would be sitting ducks on that road.
Another two miles and we
came to a farm house and barn. Peeking out of the barn’s silhouette was a
radio aerial and a camouflaged halftrack. If this was a 41st halftrack I might
get the answer to the whereabouts of the 41st Tank Battalion without going
It was a 41st halftrack,
and it was the Executive Officer of the Battalion who was there. I asked the
Major where the 41st was – he didn’t know. The radio was playing tricks and
he was getting nothing on it.
I thought: if he didn’t
know where his Battalion was -then Combat Command B didn’t know - I already
knew that Division Headquarters didn’t know. If Corps found out about this
lack of knowledge there would be some heads rolling.
The Major indicated that if
I found out where the Battalion was I should be sure to stop on my way back and
We proceeded northeast and
began to hear gunfire. We approached a hill slowly and when we got to the crest
we peeked over it.
There was the 41st Tank
Battalion in battle formation, moving slowly, then stopping, then moving again:
section by section, platoon by platoon, company by company – just like in the
After a few minutes of
study, I decided that there was good news and bad news to report. The good news
was: they were up against infantry supported by artillery and mortars. The bad
news was: I could see two tanks on fire. Later on that day, and into the next
day, the enemy infantry called in Panzer Units to support them and the news
turned from good to bad.
I stopped at the 41st Tank
Bn. halftrack on my way back and had the Major radio my report to Division
Headquarters. I figured he owed me one.
A Division in its first
battle is an unknown quantity. Some Divisions freeze and perform dismally. Other
Divisions reach an emotional high and perform well. Seasoned Combat Commanders
taking a Division into action for the first time count on something they call
"the valor of ignorance."
On the whole the 11th
Armored Division got pretty good marks for its initial baptism of fire. There
was plenty of valor and plenty of ignorance. It was reported that a tank
commander, seeing his tank pass a foxhole occupied by the enemy, jumped out of
his tank turret, ran over, and tommy-gunned the foxhole—instead of letting
following waves of tanks and infantry handle the foxhole. One of our Armored
Artillery Battalions cut loose in a barrage on a group of Germans coming in to
I had Officers tell me
later of things they did in the first two days of combat that they later would
visualize in a dream and wake up in a cold sweat. There is sometimes a very fine
line between heroics and stupidity. But it is all included in the "valor of
Soldiers will tell you:
"Once in combat, you are never the same person again. Your sense of values
By the second day we had
drawn German Panzer Units onto our front and the attack became a slugging match
in which nobody won. Both sides lost vehicles and men, and very little progress
was made toward the relief of Bastogne. We gave General Middleton, in command of
VIII Corps, plenty to worry about.
On the morning of the third
day Gen. Middleton appeared at Div. Hq. and told Gen. Kilburn that we could not
sustain our present losses and that he was going to pull us back into Corps
Reserve and throw in the 17th Airborne on our front.
In two days we had lost 30%
of our Tanks and 20% of our personnel—that was more than we lost all the rest
of our time in combat in Europe.
We left one of our Tank
Battalions—which had been held in reserve—to support the 17th Airborne. The
rest of the Division pulled back a few miles. We licked our wounds, repaired our
tanks, and resolved to fight smarter on our return to action.
ARMORED WARFARE: THIRD ARMY
While we are catching our
breath in Corps Reserve it might be a good time to discuss some of the aspects
of Armored Warfare as practiced in Patton's Third Army.
When we reached France and
settled in the St. Nazaire area the Division we replaced turned over some of
their vehicles to us. Among the vehicles were a number of jeeps, one of which
was assigned to me.
The jeep had a metal
shield—one-fourth inch thick—as a second windshield, with little wings
flowing out from the sides, welded to the hood and frame of the vehicle.
I took one look at it and
suggested to my driver that he take the vehicle to an Ordinance Maintenance Bn.
motor pool in the area and have the shield removed. I explained to him that the
shield was just dead weight—and of minimal value as protection. It couldn't
stop an artillery shell or even a 30-caliber armor-piercing bullet. It would
just slow us down—and that was the last thing we wanted to happen.
If he and I were to return
to the States in one piece we would have to rely on Brains, Imagination, and
SPEED. In time of danger we would have to adopt the tactics of the Jack
Rabbit—not the Bull or the Lion. We were both armed with 30-caliber
Carbines—effective up to 100 yards—and therefore we were in no position to
pick a fight with a heavily-armed enemy.
In microcosm this was also
the rationale that Third Army applied in planning their armored actions:
Brains—Imagination and SPEED—SPEED—SPEED.
The German tanks outweighed
and out-gunned ours. A knock-down, drag-out battle of tank against tank would
leave them victors. Therefore, if at all possible, avoid a direct confrontation
with them. Call in the big artillery to break their treads and immobilize them.
Call in the Air Force to bomb them. If you could isolate a German Tiger Tank,
maneuver around and put a shell into his engine compartment and immobilize him.
The gigantic tank battles
that occurred on the Russian Front involving hundreds of tanks on each side
would have made Patton throw up or fire his G-3 Section. What a waste of tanks
and skilled tank crews!
Army Style—was simple enough. First, determine a sector of the enemy defensive
position occupied mainly by infantry. Then, punch a hole in that area, rush up
your Armored Infantry to hold the shoulders of the breach, and then pour your
Armor through with orders to go deep—deep—deep. Then, fan out and seek the
enemy ration depots (BURN THEM!), ammunition dumps (BLAST THEM!), and fuel
centers (BLOW THEM UP!). Shoot up every truck you find and kill every horse
drawing a wagon! Capture their hospitals. Make the advance ruthless and violent!
The German soldier is as
stubborn and spirited a fighter as there is in the world as long as food comes
up on time, ammunition re-supply occurs on time, gasoline rations appear on
Patton has stated that an
army is an organization which gets very goosey when enemy units are raising hell
in its rear. The German Army was no exception.
Faced with starvation, no
ammunition, no fuel, and the suggestion of no medical treatment if they should
continue fighting, the German soldier listened to an offer he could not refuse:
Waging this kind of war,
Third Army took more prisoners and suffered fewer causalities of its own men
than any other army in the European Theatre.
The Battle of the Bulge was
far removed from the ideal setup as we knew it. There was no definite defensive
line to breach. German units were coiling back on Bastogne. A sector our G-2
might identify as defended by infantry one day would be occupied by German
Panzer Units the next morning. Everything was in a state of flux. American units
would meet German units in the woods, and they would do a deadly dance together
until darkness fell.
Bruce Catton, in his book This
Hallowed Ground, describes the Battle of Shiloh in the American Civil War. A
Union private suffers a flesh wound and his Company Commander tells him to go to
the rear and have the wound cared for. The private starts northward toward the
River and is blocked by a Confederate unit just arrived; he goes east-same
result; no point going west-he returns to his Company's position. The Company
Commander sees him and says: "I thought I told you to go to the rear!"
The private replies: "Sir, there ain't no rear to this battle." That,
too, was the Battle of the Bulge.
When we went back into
action the next week we took this into account and altered our strategy
A STRONGPOINT ON HILL 409
Trucks brought the 17th
Airborne Division from Neufchateau. They took over our positions as we retired
to Corps Reserve.
It takes a special breed of
man to enjoy service in an Airborne Division. It is not just jumping out of
planes and hoping your parachute opens-or landing on the ground and checking to
see if all your bones are still solid. When you get on the ground and disengage
your parachute, and seek out your squad leader, platoon leader and Company
commander, in that order, and then take your objective—a bridge or a key
crossroads—your problems have just started; because you have landed without
tanks, without adequate artillery support, and without transportation.
At the start of an airdrop
there is an implied promise that friendly armor and infantry will come to your
aid and relieve you in forty-eight or seventy-two hours. If they cannot reach
you, you are in big trouble. My first contact with Airborne troops was during
Louisiana Maneuvers in the Summer of 1943. There was a combined exercise in
which the 11th Armored was to cooperate with an Airborne Division in an air-drop
and relief. The Airborne Division made the drop, but sufficient attention had
not been paid to wind velocity and, instead of dropping on an open field, a good
portion of the command had blown into a large stand of trees and were hanging by
their parachutes from the tree branches. I took a good look and decided I was
happy with service in an Armored Division—with its vehicles which carried
bed-rolls, rations, and even served as shelter in case of rain—and all of it
on the ground.
I don't know what the exact guidelines are for training Airborne troops, but the initial instructions must run something like this: "Produce human Doberman Pinschers—aggressive, fearless competitors." After two or three months of training I assume that the Training Officers go to the Camp Military Police Station and ask to see the reports on brawls at the Camp's Post Exchanges involving Airborne personnel. If the reports show three Airborne took on seven non-Airborne or five Airborne brawled with twelve non-Airborne, the Training Officers would know that the training was on target.
The Battle of the Bulge was
not an ideal setup for the 17th Airborne any more than it was for the 11th
Armored. We turned over our third Tank Battalion to them for close support, but
that was hardly enough to put them in a euphoric mood when they found out what
they were up against. Also, there was no time limit set for their relief. It was
going to be tough infantry action in which they were somewhat shy of the tools
After three days it was
evident that the 17th Airborne was suffering casualties in an amount that it
could not sustain,
The 11th Armored prepared
to go back into action. My driver and I went forward to check on the positions
of the 17th Airborne so that a smooth replacement of units could take place. We
stopped on a secondary road to get our bearings with the help of a map of the
About 150 yards to our
front we saw two 17th Airbomes walking toward us. One of them was carrying a
30-caliber air-cooled machine gun on his shoulders and the other was carrying
the tripod for the gun. Each had several webs of 30-caliber machine-gun bullets
draped around his neck-dangling down to the knees. They were young men-maybe
eighteen years old.
They approached our jeep
and asked: "Lt.-where is Hill 409?" I looked at the map and determined
it was a wooded hill over on our right front about one-quarter mile away.
I asked them what they were
going to do at Hill 409. One of them replied: "Me and Charley have orders
to go to Hill 409 and set up a Strongpoint." They trudged off toward Hill
409 to set up their Strongpoint—all two of them.
WE FIGHT AS INFANTRY
Prayer of General Patton's
Chaplain for Third Army Troops in the Bulge:
and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to
restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair
weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that
armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the
oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and
We went back into action
and this was going to be different than our first taste of battle. But before I
tell you what was different, let me tell you what was the same: the weather.
It was cold: 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit during the day—0 degrees at night. It was dismal: a whitish foggy mist hung over the ground and the ugly gray clouds of winter shut out the sun. It was continual—day after day this study in white, gray, and black. During this time a friend of mine confirmed that bombers were grounded for fourteen consecutive days at a U.K. Base where he served. Now, when I wake up on a dreary day in January and see that cold gray sky I murmur: "Battle of the Bulge weather."
The cold grabbed at your
bones. You felt mean. You wanted to take out your discomfort on someone—and
you had a fitting candidate: the enemy. The enemy felt the same way about you.
You asked yourself: "What idiot would order a winter offensive?"
We dealt intimately with
icy roads. When a 32-ton tank slides off an icy road into a ditch you have a
problem that cannot be solved by hailing a passerby.
At night we would try to
find a barn to sleep in—piling straw underneath and on top of our bed rolls:
twice as much underneath as on top.
One purchase I made while
still at U.K. Base was priceless. Selfridge’s was selling sheepskin vests and
I bought one. It had the hide turned out and the clipped hair next to my body.
The Medics would have objected to this piece of clothing-if you were hit in the
vest area the bullet would carry sheep’s hair into the wound and make the
cleansing of the wound more difficult. I figured that if I were hit in the vest
area both the Aid Station and I would have more to worry about than just a few
The 21st, 55th, and 63rd
Armored Infantry Battalions took the lead, supported by the 22nd, 41st, and 42nd
Tank Battalions and the 490th, 491st, and 492nd Armored Field Artillery
Battalions. It was an infantry battle and we slogged ahead a mile or two each
day, with some villages in our path taken, lost, and retaken in a 24-hour
period. The cost in killed and wounded mounted. Things slowed down to something
resembling World War One.
Major Foy’s 41st Cavalry
Reconnaissance Squadron whose fleet of light tanks and armored cars normally
ranged far ahead and to the flanks-our eyes and ears so to speak- got out of
their vehicles and fought on the ground as infantry.
Attached to our Division
was the 575th Anti-Aircraft Battalion, commanded by Major Spettle. This Battalion
was armed with 50 caliber machine guns clustered in groups of four, with a
firing platform that could be directed skyward. Col. Williams called in Major
Spettle and ordered him to support Major Foy’s 41st Cavalry Squadron. Major
Spettle complained bitterly that anti-aircraft Battalions are for protection
against enemy aircraft and should not be used for support of infantry. Col.
Williams pointed out that with ceiling zero weather there was no aerial threat
and “By God-if Major Foy can fight as infantry your 575th can support him!”
The Quad 50’s proved to be excellent support weapons. The 50 caliber machine
gun throws out a slug big enough to chew up trucks and fighter planes. When the
Quad 50’s were directed in front of advancing infantry you could see branches
falling off trees, and bushes suddenly getting thinner-to say nothing of leaves
and snow on the ground suddenly jumping up and down as if by magic.
We dug foxholes big enough
to accommodate two men, and they would sit back to back, each man covering half
a circle on his front.
We laid wire for
communications between selected units. In that way we cut to a minimum radio
communications which were noisy enough to give away the location of our
position. We relied on field telephones, ala World War I.
Attached to our Division
Headquarters was a Communications Officer and his group of wire-layers from the
Division’s 151st Signal Company. The Officer was Lt. Kalcevic, a tough Polack
from a Pennsylvania mining town. One of the Sections would report a cessation of
communication with a unit to which we had laid wire. This would be reported to
Lt. Kalcevic: his face would turn red with anger and he would mutter: “Those
damn Krauts!” he would call for two of his crew to grab their rifles. The
three would stomp off to locate the break and repair it. By the time they
reached the place where the wire was cut, the German patrol who did the cutting
would be several miles away. But every cut wire got the same reaction from Lt.
Kalcevic: the red face, the muttering “Those damn Krauts,” and the stomping
off with rifles to repair HIS wire.
SOUTHWEST OF BASTOGNE
The Table of Organization
(T/O) for an Armored Division gives the Chief-of–Staff three Liaison Officers
to help him do his job. The usual assignments are: one Liaison Officer minds the
store at Division Headquarters, one Liaison Office goes back and forth to Corps
Headquarters, and one Liaison Officer goes forward to contact the Combat units.
In the 11th Armored Divison,
Capt. Gaffaney minded the store, Lt. Keough went back and forth to Corps, and
Lt. Moeller went forward to contact Combat units.
When Lt. Keough learned
that he was chosen to go back and forth to Corps I am sure that he smiled. After
all, in combat, Corps Headquarters is thirty or forty miles back of the front
line and the only real threat back there is from the air. At Corps Headquarters
you will run into Red Cross girls, Army nurses off duty, entertainment groups
sent out from Hollywood and New York, and many newspaper reporters. And Lt.
Keough, by nature, was a devotee of the Good Life.
The Battle of the Bulge
turned out to be quite a shock to Lt. Keough. The mileage back to Corps was very
dangerous mileage-what with German patrols slashing through the “Indian
Country” between Division Headquarters and Corps Headquarters. It was more
dangerous than Lt. Moeller’s contacts with friendly combat units. Lt. Keough
had thirty dark, perilous miles to negotiate in the vicinity of no troops, and
that was putting it hopefully.
Lt. Keough would return
from Corps with a white face and a rumpled composure. He would tell me about the
harrowing tri back to Division, and I would say in a consoling way: “I know-I
know.” And then I would ponder how things worked out in the Army generally and
in combat particularly, where something safe and desirable turned out exactly
the opposite. I must confess that while I was pondering it was difficult for me
to keep an amused smirk off my face.
One day at dusk Col. Poole,
our G-4, Red Williams, and I visited the Prisoner-of-war (POW) Compound, hastily
erected with 4 x 4's, 2 x 4's, and plenty of barbed wire strung up and down and
sideways. That day we were up against an SS Infantry Regiment and we had taken
eighty prisoners. We were curious to see what these chosen members of the Master
Race looked like.
They were a mixed bag,
physically—even allowing for the dirt and grime of numerous days in combat.
They were a disappointment to me because my memories went back to Camp Polk, La.
in the Summer of '43. That summer my driver and I were out at dawn one day on
our way to a firing range to set things up for the day. Suddenly we heard a
burst of song from many mouths coming from behind a hill to our front. I told
the driver to pull over and park. Over the hill came a column of 4's—they were
Prisoners-of-war from the German Afrika Corps—several hundred in the
formation. They were dressed in our summer khaki pants and white
T-shirts—every man in step, eyes front, striding in that easy German cadence,
and. Oh! how I wished we had marching songs like the Germans have!
They were impressive
physically—not as tall as our Americans, but with thick necks and upper
torsos. I turned to my driver and asked: "There is the enemy—what do you
think of them?" His quiet response was: "They are tough, they are
disciplined, and I am glad they are prisoners and I don't have to fight
The prisoners we now saw in
the Division Compound—the elite of the Master Race—had been putting people
behind barbed wire for a number of years, and now they found themselves behind
barbed wire. They were disgusted with themselves for having been taken
prisoners. They snarled and cursed and spit through the wire at us.
Col. Poole, a native of
Kosciusko, Mississippi, turned to Red Williams, a native of Alabama and said:
"Mr. Williams, I want you to forget to supply this compound with rations
tonight-also no tents, no blankets, and, of course, no fires." Mr. Williams
said: "Yes, SUH." I always enjoyed hearing our Southerners say:
"Yes, SUH." They understood the message, but more than that-when they
said "SUH" you knew they agreed with every word of the order.
The next morning we found a
sullen but subdued group of prisoners. When you have spent a night at 0 degrees
Fahrenheit, with no food, shelter or heat, and you have spent part of the night
jogging in place to keep from freezing to death-by the dawn's early light you
are likely to feel subdued.
We gave their Feldwebel
(Field Sgt.) orders to form them and march them under guard to the Corps POW
Compound—some twenty miles distant.
Mr. Williams also forgot to
supply the Compound with breakfast rations.
It was a Sunday morning and
I was in the Mess Tent having one of Sgt. Horgan's delicious cheese omelets.
That man could take powdered milk, powdered eggs, and a slice of cheese and make
the best omelet I ever ate.
Sgt. Horgan was from
Minneapolis, and I think he was a bit older than the rest of us—one of those
patriotic volunteers that would sometimes show up in a combat outfit.
Sgt. Horgan had been Mess
Sgt. for Div. Hq. Officer's Mess in California at Camp Cooke (Lompoc, Cal.). One
night we had an Officer's Dinner Dance and the menu had been particularly
sumptuous-a fringe benefit from slot machines installed in the Officers Mess.
General Brooks, then Division Commander, called Sgt. Horgan and his crew to the
dining room to congratulate them on their splendid results. He beamed in on Sgt.
Horgan and told him that he ever needed a recommendation in Food Service after
the war - he, the General, would be happy to supply him with a glowing one. Sgt.
Horgan smiled and thanked the General for his kind offer and then added:
"After the War, General, I do not think I will need a recommendation. You
see, I own a string of restaurants in Minneapolis!"
But, to get back to the
War, Mr. Berry, Chief Warrant Officer of the Chief-of-Staff Section, came into
the Mess looking for me. The Chief-of-Staff wanted to see me right away. Col.
Williams told me: "Fire is falling in the Message Center area. Get over
there and get them moved to a less vulnerable spot."
The Message Center was
located north of us. To get there I needed to go west to the Main Road, then
north on the Main Road one and one-quarter miles, then east on a narrow lane
about one-quarter mile.
My driver and I set out at
once. When we reached the Main Road we went north about one mile. We were
one-quarter mile short of the crossroad and the lane leading to the Message
Center. I told the driver to pull off the road and stay with the jeep while I
continued on foot directly east across a farmyard and fields. I wanted to avoid
the crossroad up ahead.
When enemy artillery is
coming in there are three things you avoid: crossroads, church steeples, and
easily identified clumps of trees.
I climbed a fence and
entered the farmyard. There was a nice brick farm house off to the right. I had
gone about thirty yards when artillery started falling in the farmyard area. I
saw a rectangular watering trough and dove for the lee side of it. Flat on my
stomach and muddy, I turned my head toward the farmhouse and saw the frightened
face of a woman staring out a second-story window. She called out: "Aviones.-.aviones?"
(Bombers... bombers?) I yelled up: "Mats non, Madame—artillerie...
artillerie... A BAS... A BAS. (Get down...Get down!) One of the last places you
should be with artillery kicking up a barnyard is the second-story window of a
house overlooking that barnyard.
The artillery stopped and I
reached the Message Center without further incident. We found a more sheltered
spot for the Message Center—on the lee side of a hill. And things returned to
It turned out that some
bonehead had ordered the Message Center to send out an Administrative Report in
Morse Code, which had resulted in a steady transmission of over an hour. German
listening posts had picked up the signals, determined the direction from several
of their locations, and then, by triangulation, plotted the location of the
Message Center. After that lesson, we kept our messages short and to the point.
Some miles southwest of
Bastogne was a bloody little village named Chenogne. Both sides set their sights
on the little village and it was taken, lost, retaken, lost again in a costly
expenditure of life.
My first visit to Chenogne
occurred when one of our Armored Infantry companies held it. I approached from
the south up a two-lane road with ditches on each side. At the southern edge of
the village I saw three dead German soldiers in the ditch, frozen stiff. In
itself that would have been noted and forgotten. What made these three dead
German soldiers memorable was their posture in death. Obviously, they were
squatting in the ditch answering calls of Nature when our artillery caught them
with their pants down, literally.
On this particular morning
at Division Headquarters I noticed a Lieutenant waiting outside Col. Williams'
office. I recognized him as a fellow survivor of the 20th Company, Armored Force
Officers Candidate School, at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. I knew that he now commanded a platoon in one
of our Armored Infantry Battalions.
months—October-November-December 1942—we had shared a similar experience
culminating in an Army Commission and the privilege of pinning the gold bars of
a 2nd Lieutenant on our shoulder straps.
We shared the memory of our
first formation, when the Company Commander welcomed us to the 20th Company,
O.C.S. and advised us that we had just volunteered for "ninety days of
thunder and lightning—at the end of which half of you will no longer be
For the first forty-five
days the Company Officers conducted a war of nerves—using the unexpected to
throw us off balance. Above all, the Army had to determine whether each
Candidate could handle STRESS. If you think that the Army can only do things by
the numbers, forget it. These Officers were quite imaginative.
The First Platoon, to which
I belonged, was housed on the second floor of an old wooden barrack. When taps
sounded at night you were happy to go to sleep on your cot—except on certain
unscheduled nights when the lights would suddenly be turned on and someone would
yell up: "Formation in ten minutes—Jackets, Helmets, Full Field
Packs!" It was 2 A.M. You would jump out of bed, hurry into your clothes,
make up your full field pack, run your arms through the straps and adjust them
so that the pack rode high on your back and shoulders, and gallop down the
stairs to make the formation in time.
The Officer in charge, in
feigned anger, would demand: "Who ordered Full Field Packs? I ordered just
Raincoats. Formation in two minutes!" Back up the stairs, off with the full
field pack, on with the raincoat, down the stairs in two minutes ... a road
march of one hour and the next morning no mention was made of the preceding
On days that we went to the
firing range, trucks usually provided the transportation both ways. But not
always. The Lieutenant in charge, at the end of the day, might send the trucks
back empty, and then double-time us back three and one-half miles to the
barracks. We would come in steaming with perspiration and puffing. But, when he
called us to Attention for dismissal, we would breathe normally—or try
to—eyes front, and mutter under our breath: "You son-of-a-bitch, you are
not going to get to me!"
For the survivors of ninety
days of thunder and lightning there was a bond established, and when I saw the
Lieutenant waiting to see Col. Williams, I was curious.
The Lieutenant told me that
he was summoned to the Chief-of-Staffs office to give his version of a
prisoner-killing incident at Chenogne a few days earlier. He told me: "On
the previous day the Krauts had forced us out of Chenogne. On the day in
question we mounted an attack supported by tank and artillery fire and retook
the village. By noon we were in possession, and in the process, had taken eight
prisoners. We now were very busy preparing for the expected counterattack,
because the Krauts do not give up anything easily. I could not spare men to
march the prisoners to the rear. About 3 P.M. mortar and artillery fire began to
fall on our positions and the German infantry filed out of the wooded hills to
the north of the village. If we repelled the attack I could move the prisoners
to the rear under cover of darkness. But what if we were forced to withdraw
again? In the confusion of a withdrawal I could not handle the prisoners, and
they would be free to rejoin their units. I thought of the men I had lost in the
bitter fighting of the last two days. I decided, that, if we had to withdraw,
these were eight Krauts that were not going to fire on my men when we
counterattacked on the following day. We were forced to withdraw. I ordered my
Platoon Sgt. to kill the prisoners. And he did."
My little journal of dates
and places indicates that Division Headquarters was in Bastogne from January 19
to February 4, 1945. We needed the time to catch our breath and get replacements
in men, vehicles, and materials.
During our first days in
Bastogne we held a Division Formation on a big public park south of the church
to award medals to the men who had distinguished themselves in combat. One
Armored Infantry Company stood formation with a Staff Sergeant as Company
Commander and 96 men. The normal complement of Officers and men in such a
company was six Officers and 210 men. Oh yes, we needed replacements.
Our first location was on
the south side of town on a big wooded hill. The entrance was off the main road,
and the trail leading up to Division Headquarters wound up the hill in a series
of curves and U-turns.
On the second night a jeep
came up the hill, moving slowly with just its little rectangular black-out
lights on, and was stopped at the Guard Post. The Guard called out:
"Halt-who goes there?" and got the answer: "Friend." The
guard called out: "Give the Password!" The individual on the passenger
side of the jeep stood up and leaned against the
windshield. He said that he
did not know the Password-that he had just arrived in the area-and requested to
see our Commanding General. This was an unexpected complication for the guard,
so he pretended he hadn't heard this and bawled out: "Give the
Password!" The individual standing in the jeep became somewhat annoyed and
said: "Look here, Soldier-I am General Maxwell D. Taylor, Commanding
General of the 101st Airborne, and I demand to see your Commanding
General!" To our everlasting amusement our Guard responded: "Mac-you
can be Abraham Lincoln and you won't get by this Guard Post without the
Password." The matter was finally resolved after the Sgt. of the Guard,
Capt. of the Guard, and finally the Hq. Commandant had been called and General
Taylor was allowed to pass the Guard Post.
General Taylor had been the
victim of miserable timing. He was back in the States on Army business when the
Battle of the Bulge started. His Deputy Division Commander, Gen. McAuliffe, got
all the newspaper headlines and all the credit for the magnificent stand that
the 101st Airborne made at Bastogne.
The 101st Airborne had been
relaxing in northern France when the Battle started. They moved up in trucks
before the Germans sealed off the town. They took a couple of Artillery units
with them and they also acquired some remnants of two Armored Divisions that had
been in the Bastogne area when the German Express roared through. So they had
some medium-sized artillery support with them in Bastogne. But their situation
soon became desperate.
An attacking German tank
might have a track knocked off and become immobile. The 101st could not allow
that tank to be rescued by a German Maintenance Tractor, repaired overnight, and
then have to fight it again the next day. They organized tank-hunter squads
which went out at night to permanently disable the tank—a hand grenade into
the gun barrel. If they ran into Germans in the vicinity it was usually quiet
work—with knife and bayonet.
The German General
commanding that wing of the German Offensive sent in his Liaison Officer to
demand the surrender of Bastogne. It was the usual spiel: "We have you
outmanned, outgunned and surrounded. It is just a matter of time. Why not save
your valiant troops? Surrender with honor." General McAuliffe gave a
one-word answer: "NUTS." The Liaison Officer returned to his German
General with McAuliffe's answer, and the General asked: "Is NUTS
affirmative or negative?"
General McAuliffe will be
remembered as the Commander of a defense which ranks with the Texans at the
Alamo. Only this time the Good Guys won, and History will know him by the name
Poor General Taylor. He
probably would have given a non-vital part of his body to have been there at the
right time and gone down in history as Nuts Taylor.
One of the longest, coldest
days that I had was an assignment that had little to do with war and a lot to do
with politics. Early in March 1944 Major General Brooks, commanding the 11th
Armored Division, was transferred to assume command of the 2nd Armored Division,
then in England and ready for D-Day. Brigadier General Charles Kilburn was
assigned as Division Commander. Formerly, Gen. Kilburn had commanded Combat
Command A in the Division.
Late in March a letter from
the Secretary of War advised that the Postmaster General, the Honorable Frank C.
Walker, would visit the Division.
This was an opportunity for
General Kilburn to pull out all the stops for a big-shot from Washington,
D.C.—with the hope that Mr. Walker would return to the Capitol with a glowing
report of the 11th Armored Division in general and of Gen. Kilburn in
particular. When you are a one-star General bucking for that second star of a
Major General you can't afford to miss such an opportunity.
Mr. Walker participated in
lunch, probably in the company of his wife and daughter. One can assume that
there were flowers on the table, and, although I was not informed as to the
luncheon menu, one can assume that it was not corned beef hash or beef stew.
After luncheon Mr. Walker
witnessed a demonstration of vehicles and expressed the opinion that he had
never seen a finer bunch of soldiers.
Now came the real purpose
of this visit. Mr. Walker requested to see a Captain, commanding one of the tank
companies. It turned out that the Captain and Mr. Walker's daughter were going
steady, and before the summer ended, the Captain was Mr. Walker's son-in-law.
Now that I have established
this "Pas-de-trois" let me resume the story.
The Captain was killed in
action on the first day of combat. It was natural for Mr. Walker to ask for
particulars of his son-in-law's death. In all probability the message was
delayed in reaching General Kilburn in Bastogne. There was probably a second
request for information initiated by The Secretary of War. General Kilburn was
perturbed by the sequence of events.
Col. Williams was
perturbed, too. He called me in and told me to get back to Division Rear Echelon
and see Col. Enterline, our Graves Registration Officer. I was to get full
particulars on the whereabouts of the Captain, and, he added: "Don't come
back without the information!" When an Officer gives you an order and then
adds that "don't come back" proviso—you know that Officer is
The Division Rear Echelon
was located in Luxembourg City—fifty or sixty miles southeast of Bastogne.
Rear Echelon is the record-keeping, paper-working part of the Division.
Col. Enterline was the
Division Chemical Warfare Officer, but, in the absence of chemical warfare, he
served as Graves Registration Officer.
Luxembourg is a little
independent country—a miniature Switzerland—untouched by warfare. The
hot-water heaters worked, and the toilets and bathtubs functioned. Luxembourg
City was a nice place to spend some time.
My driver and I started
promptly that morning and arrived in Luxembourg City in mid-morning. We found
that Col. Enterline was not there. I squeezed the Chemical Warfare Section for
information on Graves Registration and finally came up with the location of the
cemetery where the dead of the 11th Armored Division were being taken. The
cemetery was located in Sedan, France.
We munched on a K-ration
and then set out for Sedan, which we reached in mid-afternoon.
The Military Cemetery at
Sedan was on a beautiful piece of land, and there was a quiet dignity about the
place. The cemetery contained the graves of World War I dead as well as World
War II dead. The long, long rows of white crosses marched up and down over the
I went to the Information
Stationmarker for American burials. I talked to a Staff Sergeant there and was
impressed with the efficiency of the place. "Yes, the Captain was buried in
Grave #____ , on Lot # ___. Did I
want to see his grave? Yes, Sergeant Smith of his Company is buried on his left
and Corporal Jones of his Company is buried on his right. Yes, we have personal
effects of the Captain—did I want to take them back with me?" I took down
all the information carefully and also accepted the Captain's personal effects.
It was now about 4 P.M.,
and we started back to Bastogne.
On the way back we passed
through a little village, and we saw a thirteen-year-old boy on the street
followed by five or six little children. We stopped the jeep at the curb and the
thirteen-year-old and his gang came running.
I reached back into my
field bag and pulled out some Hershey Bars and a couple of K-rations. Before I
gave them to the thirteen-year-old leader I wanted to be sure that he wouldn't
keep them all for himself. At that age, in wartime, one develops "street
I stared at him solemnly
and said: "Pour touts les enfants—comprenez vousP—pour touts les
enfants!" To my surprise he replied in perfect English: "Oh, yes Sir.
You want me to share these with all the children."
When we pulled out and
looked back the little gang of children were waving their hands and calling:
"Bon chance... Americains... Bon chance!"
It was late at night when
we reached Bastogne and Mr. Berry greeted me with: "Boy, is the Colonel
angry with you!" I replied: "He told me not to come back without the
information—and I had to go all the way to Sedan, France to get it!" It
turned out that the Colonel thought I had spent the day in Luxembourg City
Col. Williams calmed down
when advised of the facts and asked me to give the information to Gen. Kilburn
personally. I turned over the information and the Captain's personal effects to
Gen. Kilburn and he thanked me.
When a Commander has the
son or relative of a politically prominent citizen in his command, there is a
normal tendency for him to try to give that person some kind of military
decoration. Gen. Kilburn was no exception.
Scuttlebutt had it that
Gen. Kilburn called in the Lt. Col. commanding the Tank Bn. And suggested a
military decoration for the Captain. It did not work. The Lt. Col. stared him
down, and told the General to relieve him of command of the Battalion if he
wished—but no military decoration. In effect, the Lt. Col. said that the
Captain had run his Company down the road and got the hell shot out of it—and
a lot of good soldiers lost their lives—and if he put in a request for a
military decoration for the Captain, he wouldn't be able to look his soldiers in
Later, it was alleged that
this Lt. Col. led some tanks into a German town and blasted open a bank. After
the war I know the FBI was hot on his trail. But I don't care. In my book that
Lt. Col. was a man of integrity and character.
After the 101st Airborne
was relieved at Bastogne, we moved Division Headquarters to a big house on the
west side of town.
Our living standards
improved. We no longer looked for barns in which to put down bedding rolls. We
had the luxury of sleeping in a room. Of course, with the added comfort and
warmth of an indoor location it became apparent that it had been three or four
weeks since we had taken our clothes off. Sleeping in a barn enabled us to blame
odors on the animals—now we had no excuse.
The timely arrival in the
area of the 1059th Bath & Laundry Unit changed that.
Eight of us took off for
the Bath & Laundry Unit the next day. It was located a couple of miles
southwest of Bastogne in an open field. At a distance we could see three large
tents with connecting covered walkways. Outside the tents was a series of steel
drums giving out a cheerful amount of steam indicating warm water. The steel
drums were fueled by wood fires.
We entered Tent #1 and were
given wire baskets in which to put our outside clothes: woolen shirt and pants,
field jacket, sheep-skin vest, boots, helmet, etc.
Then—reduced to underwear
and socks we entered Tent #2. We were handed clean woolen underwear in a size to
fit, clean woolen socks, a towel, and a bar of soap. We placed these items on a
marked bench while we took off our dirty underwear and socks which we dumped in
We now entered Tent #3
which was the Shower Room. The plumbing provided a steady stream of water from a
large number of spigots. As a result the tent was full of steam, which was all
right because it provided the tent with some warmth.
The flooring of the Shower
Tent was 1 x 6 slats on 2 x 2 supports with 1-inch spacing between the slats so
that the water could seek its own level. We each chose a spigot and went to work
with the bar of soap. The shower water ran down through the flooring and then
flowed out of the tent. In the gap at the bottom of the tent I could see the
water as it flowed out. About two feet outside the tent the water was freezing
back to ice.
We returned to Tent #2, put
on our clean underwear and socks, and then to Tent #1 to don our outside
clothing and boots.
It was an exhilarating
experience to be clean again. But, as with everything in life, there was a down
side too. In this case I can say honestly that we all thought we would freeze to
death for a day or two, until our clean underwear absorbed a coating of body oil
which is so necessary in keeping out the cold of winter.
THE WORLDS BIGGEST SNIPER
My little journal of dates
and places is very meager for the month of February 1945. There is a good
reason. There had been a February thaw and the roads in the Ardennes almost sank
out of sight. A road hardened in cold weather fumed into eight-inch-deep muck in
Military activity was at a
minimum. The Germans were withdrawing slowly to their border, and we were just
maintaining light contact. We headquartered for three or four days in a little
village, and then moved on east a few miles for another few days' stay.
It was during one of these
lulls that our attention was directed to a phantom artillery battery somewhere
in our area.
One night at dusk we heard
some artillery firing in our area. There was no reason for our own Artillery
Battalions to be firing. Our first thought was: "They are probably cleaning
The next night at
dusk...the same artillery firing. This time we checked our Artillery Battalions.
No, they had not fired a round.
The third night at
dusk...more artillery fire. This time one of our units reported artillery fire
landing in their area.
Who was firing those
shells? Was it a German Artillery Battery that we had by-passed in a thick clump
of woods? And why just at dusk?
Col. Williams had a
solution. We would make an intensive sweep of the area—much like the town
sheriff does when he is looking for criminal evidence.
He called in selected
Battalion Commanders. He tacked a map of our area on an easel, and marked in red
a square of about three miles on each side-an area of about nine square miles.
He assigned the Battalions to furnish men to cover each side of the square-a man
every fifty yards. At a precise time all sides of the square were to sweep in
directly toward the center. His eyes rolled as he said: “Gentlemen, we are
about to find the WORLD’S BIGGEST SNIPER.”
On the next day all the men
were in position and the sweep began at precisely 2:30 P.M. It was slower going
than anyone had anticipated-when you are sweeping in a straight line and keeping
fifty-yard intervals over hill and dale it takes much longer to go a mile.
At 4:30 P.M. Col. Downer,
our G-3, pointed out to Col. Williams that it was going to be dark soon and he
feared soldiers approaching from opposite directions might fire at each other.
Col. Downer had a point and Col. Williams called off the sweep.
The WORLD’S BIGGEST
SNIPER was still out there somewhere. We moved on the next day. About a week
later we heard that the mystery had been solved.
It was an American
Artillery Battery that had been bypassed in the initial German advance. Luckily,
they had a couple of trucks full of rations. Each night at dusk they checked
their guns. If the Krauts came into the woods after them they were going down
with guns blazing. On the other hand, if no one came in after them, they were
going to stay there until they ran out of rations.
ON GERMAN SOIL
We approached the border of
Germany in the vicinity of Prum, a shabby little town on the Prum River. The
Prum River gets its water from the Schnee Eifel—a hilly wooded area at the
eastern edge of the Ardennes. The river is rather narrow but swift-flowing and
the Germans had blown the bridge.
Orders came down from Third
Army that Prum would be taken in a joint operation involving the 4th Infantry
Division and the 11th Armored Division. The 4th Infantry would establish a
bridgehead over the river and the 11th Armored would pass through their
positions and exploit the bridgehead.
This would be the first
attack on German soil in this area. The Germans had summoned all available
troops to meet this threat to their homeland.
The 4th Infantry attacked
and attempted to establish a bridgehead on the east bank of the river, and were
beaten back by furious German resistance. In the light of this action the 11th
Armored held in place—after all, you can't put tanks across a river unless
there is a bridge there. The attack failed.
Patton was disgusted. Our
first attack on German soil and we fail??? Absolutely disgusting and
I rather guess the
Commanders involved got a good tongue-lashing, especially Gen. Kilburn. Patton's
solution was this: If the 4th Infantry can't get a bridgehead, then you call the
Commanding General of the 4th Infantry and tell him to pull his worthless troops
out of the way—so they don't get hurt—and you get your 56th Armored Engineer
Battalion up there, supported by one of your Armored Infantry Battalions, and
you make your own bridge and GET THOSE TANKS ACROSS.
In the business world this
operating procedure is called "Undivided Responsibility." The end
result of an attack must be achieved, and it is incumbent on all the troops
involved to achieve it.
We realized then, if not
before, that we were working for a Boss who had only one fear in life: Fear of
Failure. And it sunk in. After that, every time we saw a column of tanks stopped
we pushed forward to the head of the column to find out why they stopped. Tanks
are supposed to be moving—they are no good stopped.
When a unit of Third Army
was not doing its job, the word "worthless" was used quite a bit.
Later on, I remember
listening to a radio net in which our G-3 was checking the march order of units
out of their bivouac areas. He contacted an Armored Infantry Battalion and
asked: - "Are you moving out?" The reply from the Battalion S-3 was a
cheerful: "Yes, Sir." At that moment the voice of Col. Yale,
commanding Combat Command B, came crackling over the air waves: "I'm
sitting on a hill overlooking your bivouac area, and I don't see a damn vehicle
moving. Now you get your worthless outfit MOVING!"
On the next day we took Prum. I was walking up the main street of the
town when three German Messerschmitts came in strafing the street. I jumped into
a doorway for protection. In the living room were two dead G.I.s. I picked up
the rifle of one of them, and carried it with me until VE Day. I now had a
weapon that could get somebody's attention at 300 yards—instead of the carbine
that was effective at 100 yards. The other dead G.I.'s rifle was stuck—bayonet
down—into the lawn outside with a helmet placed on the upright stock as a
notice to the Medics to collect the bodies inside.
I still have the rifle. On
returning to the States I rolled up the rifle in my bedding roll and it came all
the way home undisturbed. At about this time my promotion to Captain came
And I had another pleasant
surprise. Col. Poole suggested that I drop by the G-4 Section when I had time.
The pleasant surprise was a Colt .45 Pistol which he gave me. A group of
replacements had arrived, and a few of them had been issued Colt .45’s. Col.
Poole relieved them of this equipment. He had people in mind that had better use
for such a weapon. With my Garand Rifle and a Colt .45 strapped around my waist
I was beginning to look like a one-man Army.
While in Prum, we had our
Officers Mess in a basement on the Main Street. It happened that two young
newspaper reporters had ventured that far forward and were guests at our Mess.
Between themselves they had a spirited discussion about what incoming artillery
sounded like-quoting something somebody had told them back in Paris. At that
moment Major Douglas, our Asst. G-3 came in-his front dripping with mud. He
listened to these two for a few seconds and gave them a disgusted look. He could
have told them what incoming artillery sounded like.
THE SIEGFRIED LINE
Between the western border
of Germany and the Rhine River lay the Siegfried Line—a developed line of
fortifications with mutually supporting fields of fire and rows of concrete
Dragon's Teeth to impede the approach of tanks. The Line extended for miles
north and south to stop the approach of any enemy from the west.
Patton called such
defensive constructions: "Monuments to Man's Stupidity." There wasn't
one defensive line since the China Wall that had not been breached or flanked.
But, before we reached the
Siegfried Line there was an area filled with little villages that required
taking. One such village on our front was Reiff.
We approached to within two
miles of Reiff and observed that it sat on a ridge road with little valleys on
each side of the road.
Col. Bell, commanding
Combat Command R (Combat Command Reserve), was put in charge of taking Reiff
because it appeared to be an infantry job.
On the night before the
attack Col. Bell had sent out patrols to determine the positions of German
defenses. The patrols brought back information that indicated the Germans viewed
it as an infantry action, too. Therefore, they had positioned their artillery
and mortars to cover the two little valleys on each side of the road.
Col. Bell assembled
infantry units and also a company of tanks for the job.
The next morning the attack
began with a demonstration of infantry in each of the little valleys. And then
he sent the Tank Company, followed by an Armored Infantry Company mounted in
halftracks straight down the road at full speed.
The Germans could not
adjust their artillery positions fast enough to cover the road (they were
horse-drawn units) and Col. Bell's flying column was in Reiff in minutes.
The column found the German
Commander and his staff having coffee in the dining room of the village hotel
and took them prisoners. We had taken Reiff at 8:30 A.M. and took the rest of
the day off. The German Commander was quoted: "Only a crazy man would order
a charge straight down a ridge road!"
We reached the outskirts of
the Siegfried Line and set up Headquarters in a cluster of buildings looking out
at the Dragon Teeth and some of the fortifications. On our arrival we discovered
some booby traps which were rigged in such an amateurish fashion that we figured
the German troops manning the Pill Boxes must be Volksturm
Units-sixteen-year-olds and fifty-year-old men-the bottom of the German manpower
barrel. And such was the case.
There was a pause of a day
in coordinating the action to be taken and we had a beautiful, sunny day to
enjoy. That afternoon I was tuned into the radio wave length of the 490th
Armored Field Artillery Bn. Each Field Artillery Bn. had two Piper Cub airplanes
to spot and adjust artillery from the air. On this afternoon Lt. Kelly of the
490th was aloft flying in lazy circles over the area. He called in to 490th
Headquarters: "On Pill Box 417, I can see four Krauts out on top sunning
themselves. How about throwing a couple of rounds their way and scaring the hell
out of them?" The voice of Col. Ted Bilbo, Commanding the 490th (and son of
the U.S. Senator Bilbo) came over the air: " A couple of rounds-Hell. Let's
throw the whole Battalion at them. We will T-O-T them!"
T-O-T means Time-on-Target.
In North Africa we had developed the use of proximity fuses so that a shell
could be timed to explode at a given fraction of a second after firing. To get
the best killing results the optimum time to explode was when the shell was
about twenty feet over the target. All the shrapnel impelled downward and beat a
killing zone much larger than if the shell exploded on contact with the ground.
The orders went out to
Batteries A, B, and C for the mission. Each Battery was in a different location
as a precaution against air attack, and therefore a different distance from Pill
Box 417. Each Battery figured their specific distance and set their fuses
accordingly. The Batteries reported READY, and were given the precise
The mission proceeded. Each
Battery fired at their specific time, and the shells from over fifty guns
whistled toward Pill Box 417. The top of Pill Box 417 shivered under the impact
of the barrage.
It gave the remaining
occupants of Pill Box 417 something to think about all that night and it was not
surprising that this Pill Box was one of the first to give up on the next
morning—when our infantry attacked. The Siegfried Line was breached. I don't
know how much difference it would have made if the Pill Boxes had been manned by
seasoned troops rather than the Volksturm.
On the day of the attack we
had some Air Force Pilots as our guests and observers. They watched our infantry
and remarked with awe: "They are attacking standing up!" An Infantry
Officer explained that you couldn't expect a man to crawl on his belly a mile or
more. The infantry advanced, taking advantage of every fold and depression in
the terrain. Our Tank and Artillery guns and mortars were kicking up dirt in
front of the Pill Boxes. Within 300 yards the infantry hit the dirt and advanced
in teams, a squad firing at the slits in the Pill Boxes while the adjoining
squad advanced in rushes. At about 150 yards the Artillery ceased so that our
infantry would not come under our own fire. At 50 yards some over-achievers had
to charge the Pill Box with Bangalore Torpedos (Pipe Bombs) and grenades and
disable the Pill Box permanently.
The Generals can talk about
fortified positions being monuments to man's stupidity. But for the G.I. who has
to breach them, this is hazardous, bloody business.
RUN TO THE RHINE
After the breach of the
Siegfried Line we viewed our next objective: The Rhine. The Germans were
retreating and we were pushing them so hard that they had no opportunity to
coordinate a defensive stand west of the Rhine. The mechanized German units made
it across the Rhine intact except those that ran out of gas. The horse-drawn
units were overrun by our armored units and destroyed or taken prisoner. There
was a great confusion of retreating German units and advancing American units.
But, in Patton's type of warfare, the confusion was our ally.
The Armored Units
"cleared the road to the shoulders," not worrying about their flanks,
but relying on SPEED to exploit the breakthrough. We advanced twenty-five to
forty miles a day. The supporting Infantry Divisions cleaned up the areas in our
rear. In Third Army a leading Armored Division would usually have two Infantry
Divisions following and cleaning up.
As we approached the
villages on our way we were greeted by scores of workers conscripted by the
Germans for labor. They were a European mixture-French, Polish, Hungarian,
Czech, etc.-and judging from their jubilation at seeing us, one could guess that
the Germans had kept them under a tight rein. They were treated as politically
reliable persons, but it was evident that their plight was not a very jolly
arrangement. They celebrated their sudden freedom with great enthusiasm. They
clustered around our vehicles-yelling and waving their arms. They shouted that
they knew where German soldiers were. We knew where German soldiers were. They
were all around us. Our job was to beat them to the river, bottle them up, and
let our supporting infantry mop up.
For two or three days we
had been subjected to intermittent artillery fire from a retreating German
battery. It was a war of nerves and they were getting our attention. At every
crossroad we listened for the whistle of artillery shells. The hilly country
ended and the road wound down in a rather steep descent to the river plain
below. There was a series of U-turns and S-curves in this descent. It was on one
of these U-turns that our Advance Guard—swift light tanks—caught up with the
German Battery which was horse-drawn.
A Battery on the move is
very vulnerable, and the narrow road gave no place to deploy the guns. Our tank
fire pinned them to the hillside and destroyed them. The dead horses were pulled
off the road and the guns were pushed off the road and down the hill, where they
came to rest—up-ended—in a ravine. As each of our vehicles came around the
bend and saw this destruction a cheer went up. Beauty is in the eye of the
It was on this breakthrough
to the Rhine that General Kilburn lost control of his Division. Our Advance
Units had reached the Rhine, but they were far out in front of Division
Headquarters and out of radio contact. Lt. Neiman, Gen. Kilburn's Aide, was on
unit and then another unit and getting no response. I expected to get an order
to go out and locate our leading units, but no such order was given.
Knowing where your leading
units are is an imperative. This turned out to be the third strike for General
Kilburn (and Col. Williams). The first strike was the Division's excessive
losses of men and vehicles in our first combat effort. The second strike was our
lack of aggressive action in the initial attack at Prum. One could question the
call on the second strike, but the umpire had made the call, and the umpire was
Our leading units reached
the Rhine at Andernach, a few miles south of Remagen when the American First
Army was lucky enough to grab a bridge that the Germans had failed to blow.
A NEW GENERAL TAKES CHARGE
My journal reads: March 6,
1945 Rommersheim, Germany. It is a little village a few miles west of the Rhine,
It was about 11 A.M. There
was an open clearing to the south of Div. Hq.-you could see in that direction
for more than a mile.
I noticed a light tank
approaching-coming cross-country toward our Headquarters. What caught my
attention as unusual was a jeep following in the tracks of the light tank.
The light tank and Jeep
arrived, and a one-star General jumped down from the tank and went into Div. Hq.
Brigadier General Holmes E. Dager was carrying orders to take command of the
11th Armored Division.
Gen. Dager had commanded a
Combat Command in the 4th Armored Division-now a renowned Division whose members
wore the coveted Presidential Unit Citation ribbon. He wore the Distinguished
Service Cross for his action at Avranches in the breakout of Third Army from the
Normandy Peninsula. (The D.S.C. is second only to the Congressional Medal of
Honor in decoration ranking.)
What is more important-as
we were to discover-Gen. Dager knew how to wage war Patton-style.
Gen. Kilburn and Col.
Williams appeared to have no previous knowledge of this. One word can describe
Gen. Dager sent the light
tank back to the 4th Armored Division. The Jeep and the driver remained. General
Officers often develop a close feeling for their jeep drivers. He had not
brought an Aide with him. Could Col. Williams delegate an Officer to act as his
Aide temporarily? Oh yes-Col.
Williams would assign Capt. Moeller to act as his Aide, temporarily. General
Kilburn and Colonel Williams called an assembly of Division Headquarters
Officers and shook hands with each of us and thanked us for our loyal service to
General Dager called a
Meeting of all Battalion Commanders and laid down some ground rules:
1) He had heard that the
11th Armored Division had given up ground occasionally to German night attacks.
From now on we would fight until two hours before darkness. We would use those
two hours to dig in, position our machine guns for interlocking fields of fire,
establish and register our mortar positions to cover our front in darkness, and
position our tanks defensively. The Orders were then: "Hold your position,
or die trying." From that day forward, the 11th Armored
Division did not give up
one inch of ground.
2) We would marry up a Tank
Company and an Infantry Company. The same Tank Company and Infantry would serve
together continuously. They would be a Task Force, and the Officers of both
companies would be on a first-name basis. He did not want to hear any Battalion
Commander calling back for one platoon of Tanks (5) or one squad of Infantry to
help out. The least help he would send would be a Company of Tanks and a Company
of Armored Infantry.
3) He established a Forward
Command Group consisting of himself, G-2, G-3, a Communication Truck with
long-range (CW) Radio capable of reaching Corps Headquarters, and the General's
Aide would be responsible for the security of the Group We included an Armored
Car (37 MM. Gun) and two jeeps with 30-caliber machine guns on pedestals as part
of the Group for additional fire power. This Forward Command Group was
positioned within two or three kilometers of our leading units. Therefore there
was never any question about where our leading units were. The Forward Group was
in constant radio communication with the Bn. Commanders of the leading units and
there was no waiting for a decision back at Div. Hq. The decision-making took
place in a matter of seconds.
On the next day Gen. Dager
visited the 133rd Ordinance Maintenance Battalion. He asked how many tanks were
on deadline. For what reason? Waiting for parts? He stared hard at the Officers.
"How much imagination does it take to anticipate what parts you may
need?" he asked. From now on he wanted parts waiting for tanks-not tanks
waiting for parts. And if the Officers of the 133rd Ordinance Maintenance Bn.
could not figure out how to do that, there would be some heads rolling.
On Page 211 of War As I
Knew It Patton says: "The 11th Armored Division fought fairly well in its
opening gambit, but lost an unnecessarily large number of tanks. I do not
believe that the command of that Division was what it should have been. Later,
under a new commander, this became a very fine Division." I agree.
On the third day of his new
command Gen. Dager called me in. He explained why he had not brought his Aides
with him. He had sent his Senior Aide back to the States to try to patch up a
failing marriage. He had chosen not to bring his Junior Aide. If I were willing
he would like to have Orders cut making me his Aide. He explained that my duties
as Aide would be strictly tactical. By that he and I both understood that he
would not be chasing me back to Rear Echelon scrounging for additional liquor
rations, or whatever else came to mind. Simply put, my duty was to keep him
alive. The order announcing Capt. Moeller as General Dager's Aide was cut. The
General kept his end of the bargain and I kept mine. He proved to be a man of
simple tastes. There was not one ounce of the Prima Donna in his makeup—which
is more than you can say about some General Officers—and I considered it a
privilege to serve as his Aide.
TWF PALATINATE CAMPAIGN
We were on the Rhine at
Andernach facing east to cross the Rhine and drive deep into the German
But we did not cross the
Rhine at Andernach. We turned south to cross the Moselle and then swing east to
reach the Rhine again in the vicinity of Worms.
This maneuver is known as
the Palatinate Campaign. It is studied at West Point, Sandhurst, St. Cyr, and a
number of other military schools around the world. It is a classic example of
Third-Army-type armored warfare. Our casualties were minimal and the result was
the final blow to a German army group. Third Army took over 60,000 prisoners in
the nine days of the campaign (March 13-22, 1945).
The German defensive
positions in the Saar Basin were rock-solid. The U.S. 7th Army advancing
northward ran into these defenses and was stopped cold. That was the reason for
the Campaign: to free up the U.S. 7th Army so that it could join us on our
southern flank for the drive into central Germany.
On crossing the Moselle we
were greeted by a group of G.I.'s with a stack of wine bottles. As each of our
vehicles passed onto the bridge we were handed a bottle of wine with the
greeting: "Compliments of the Mayor." There was not much Blood or Guts
to report from March 13 to 22. If there was ever a "surgical" military
operation—this was it.
Divisions—the 4th, 10th, 11th and 12th—ran wild in the rear of the Germans
facing the U.S. 7th Army. On March 23rd, the 11th Armored Division was on the
Rhine in the vicinity of Worms. Our Division Headquarters was located at Alzey—about
fifteen miles west of Worms.
Our stay at Alzey lasted
about six days. During the lull preparations were being made to throw a bridge
across the Rhine. Orders were being prepared establishing a March Order for the
units selected to cross.
The only person that comes
to my mind who distinguished himself during this lull was our Div. Hq. Mess
Officer—a Lt. MacAlister, who, it was said, came from a family of Philadelphia
area restauranteurs. Standing on the west bank of the Rhine was a warehouse in
which the Germans had collected and stored food items that were above and beyond
reasonable all expectations. Caviar, smoked salmon, smoked partridge breasts,
various types of preserved fruits, seafood delicacies, etc., etc. were all there
waiting for us.
Lt. MacAlister took a jeep and attached a little trailer. He made several
trips to the warehouse and our daily menu benefited accordingly. There was one
catch. German artillery set up on the east bank threw in an occasional shell to
remind us that they were waiting for our crossing.
Lt. MacAlister would describe how his jeep and trailer bounced
along like a frightened rabbit upon leaving the warehouse and gaining the
protection of some hills to the west.
As he put it: "I ought
to get a damned Bronze Star for keeping you guys eating like royalty!"
ACROSS THE RHINE
March 24, 1945—This was
the morning that Patton pissed in the Rhine. At least that is the Third Army
version of what happened. Oh, I know—on Page 273 of Patton's book: War As I
Knew It, it says he spit in the river, but I think an editor was just
cleaning up the copy.
exceptional happened Patton was there the next morning to pin some medals on the
people responsible. In this case the Engineer Battalion responsible for spanning
the Rhine did a fine job in a remarkably short amount of time. They had been
helped by a naval unit which had been hovering in the Rear Echelon for the
specific purpose of bridging the Rhine. So, Patton was on the bridge pinning on
Patton had predicted that
the war would be won west of the Rhine. He added up the prisoners taken, the
estimated enemy casualties, the destroyed and captured tanks and other military
vehicles, and he concluded that the Germans did not have enough left to stop us
when we crossed the Rhine,
A lover of the eloquent
gesture, Patton went to the middle of the bridge and sent the Germans a message:
"Once we get across the Rhine, there is no way you can stop us!" Now,
which is more eloquent: pissing or spitting? You decide.
We crossed the river on
this bridge at Oppenheim and then headed northeast for Hanau. We were now in
Gen. Dager assembled our
Combat Commanders and told them: "Since our crossing of the German border
we have been fighting in the Rhineland, where the populace is largely Catholic.
While they fight as loyal Germans they have never given Hitler their
wholehearted support. Now we are in country that is 100% Nazi—these people
have supported Hitler heart and soul. GIVE THESE PEOPLE A BELLYFUL OF WAR!"
On the next day there was
no need to contact our leading units by radio. We could tell where they were by
looking into the eastern sky and noting the rising columns of black smoke.
Each column represented a
village which was getting a systematic pulverizing by the guns of our Tank and
Artillery Battalions. However, on the second day, following close on the heels
of our leading units we began to notice dead German soldiers at the roadside.
This should not be. It was obvious that these soldiers were coming in to
surrender, and they were being cut down before they had a chance.
Gen. Dager called another
meeting and told the Combat Commanders: "We are soldiers-not assassins.
This nonsense must stop NOW!" And it did.
As we advanced farther into
Germany, Third Army did observe what was known as Project War Memorial. In each
village-even the ones in which we made a peaceful entry-we would fire a shell or
two at a public building, so that in future years the citizens could point to it
as a memento of World War II and the fact that "Third Army went thataway."
Having survived the Battle
of the Bulge, and having completed the Palatinate Campaign, and having absorbed
all the lessons the Germans had taught us about waging war-we now considered
ourselves professionals-eminent practitioners of the THREE B's-Burning,
Blasting, and Bleeding-with most of the emphasis on the first two.
ZELLA-MEHLIS April 5, 1945
There are some things you
do not do with Armored Units. You do not trap them on crowded city streets.
House-to-house fighting is a job for infantry. You do not bury them in
heavily-forested areas where enemy infantry can close in and zap them.
The Germans knew this. And
so, they organized their defense to fight us on the Autobahns.
The thing is: Patton knew
that the Germans knew. In the early days of professional baseball there was an
outstanding player named Wee
Willie Keeler. He had a
remarkably high batting average. A reporter once asked the little man how he
maintained such a high average and the answer was: "I hit 'em where they
Patton must have read about
Wee Willie because he sent us up into the forested hills of the Thuringer Wald (Thuringian
Forest). We bypassed the Germans sitting defensively on the Autobahns. We just
disappeared on their front. We traveled on secondary roads, rude trails, and
even cow-paths. We left little blitz signs for those following us showing where
we made turn.
Nestled in the forested
hills of the Thuringer Wald is a little town named Zella-Mehlis. It is not
famous for sausage, sauerkraut, or pork shanks. But, it is the location of the
Walther Pistol Factory.
The factory made all of the
famous P-38 Pistols, the official hand-weapon of the German Army. It also
produced 22-caliber and 7.65 Millimeter (32-caliber) Polizei Pistolen (Police
Pistols) for the SS and German Secret Police. It also produced cute little
pearl-handled, which fit
into the palm of your hand unnoticed, and were called Chastity Pistols. These
Chastity Pistols were extremely popular with our married Officers as souvenirs
for their wives.
When we reached
Zella-Mehlis we were seventy or eighty miles out ahead of our supporting
Infantry Divisions. We were now attached to XII Corps, and Corps sent us an
Order to hole up for a few days until the Infantry Divisions could catch up.
We circled the wagons just
like in the Old West. We set up road blocks and rested. We also visited the
Walther Pistol Factory, and reduced their inventory. I selected a 22-caliber, a
7.65 mm. Polizei Pistole, and a P-38 to carry home as souvenirs.
On the afternoon of the
second day a German Infantry squad mounted on bicycles came |a peddling down the
road and ran into one of our machine-gun ambushes. No member of that squad got
back to report our position to German Headquarters. They had no idea we were in
A bicycle is a miserable
means of transportation in combat. It takes too long to dismount once you
discover you are under fire. A worse one is a motorcycle—it has all the
disadvantages of a bicycle plus the fact that it is a noisy thing. And the
advantage of speed is not really there either. You can teach a couple of
eight-year-olds how to string a wire across a road to decapitate the rider.
On Louisiana maneuvers in
the Summer of 1943 our Armored Divisions used motorcycles for our messengers.
Operating a motorcycle alongside a column of tanks that were kicking up clouds
of dust, and trying to pass the column put more messengers in the ditch injured
than any other cause. Motorcycles were replaced by Jeeps for messengers after
While we were at
Zella-Mehlis resting, we heard that XII Corps Headquarters—ninety or one
hundred miles to our rear—had repelled an attack by German paratroopers.
Attached to the 11th
Armored Division was Major Kelly, Liaison Officer for the XIX Tactical Air Command. If we needed fighter plane or even
bomber support it was Major Kelly who called in the Mission and put the Air
Corps over our front. It was still the Army Air Corps. After the war it became a
separate service and we now know it as the Air Force.
The XIX Air Tac did a fine
job for us and, in appreciation. Gen. Dager asked Major Kelly to enumerate XIX
Tac personnel: pilots, ground crews, all the way down to and including the guys
that sweep out the hangars. Major Kelly gave him a figure. The next morning
cartons of P-38 Pistols left the Pistol factory marked for delivery to XIX Air
Tac—compliments of the 11th Armored Division.
Each man in XIX Air Tac got a P-38 German Pistol. At that time they were
souvenirs selling in Paris for $100.
Do not underestimate the
power of Public Relations.
Up to the War's end—when
Major Kelly called for a mission on the front of the 11th Armored Division our
fly-boys came homing in over us like Protecting Angels.
We left little Blitz Signs
for those following us showing where we made a turn. It was not so easy for
those following us. In fact, it was downright frightening to follow those Blitz
Signs and hope you had read them correctly.
We had two trucking
companies following us. They kept us supplied in rations, ammunition, and fuel.
It was a segregated Army in World War in the European Theatre. The drivers of
those trucks were Negroes, as we called blacks in those days.
I was standing on the
outskirts of Zella-Mehlis one afternoon when a solitary truck came in. Usually
the trucks came in groups. This truck may have had engine or tire trouble.
I waved a welcome to the
driver. He was a few shades tanner than his usual dark complexion. He said:
"I followed dem Blitz Signs, but I thought I never git here!" I told
him: "Without you guys and the things you bring, we all would be dead in
three or four days." He smiled.
The truckers stayed
overnight. And when they went back in the morning, they went back in groups with
some 11th Armored Division light tanks and a company of armored infantry for
When we left Zella-Mehlis I
had my Garand Rifle, my Colt .45 strapped around my waist and a 7.65 mm. Polizei
Pistole in a shoulder holster under one arm. I was getting downright
Zella-Mehlis was as close
as we were going to get to Berlin. Our drive was now changed from northeast to
southeast, and we entered Bavaria. The enemy resistance was sporadic. At
favorable defensive positions—hills, narrow defiles, rivers—the resistance
would be spirited. Sometimes we would be held up for two or three days reducing
these positions and moving on.
On April 11th the city of
Coburg surrendered without a fight. A flight of XIX Tac fighter-bombers circling
continuously over the city, ready to strike in the event of a refusal to
surrender, helped the City Fathers reach that decision.
On April 16th we reached
the outskirts of Bayreuth. The city rests in a valley and our approach from the
northwest found us on a line of hills overlooking the city. We had a Tank
Battalion and an Armored Artillery Battalion deployed on the ridge ready to
deliver a barrage if the Germans chose to defend the city.
We sent a Company of the
41st Recon. Squadron to approach cautiously and we sent Armored Infantry on foot
down the ridge and into the approaches. The infantry advanced in single files,
and disappeared in the folds of the terrain.
We scanned the outskirts of
the city for flashes of artillery fire, but saw none. It became very quiet on
the ridge. Were our infantry going to meet resistance? We listened. The only
sound we heard was some middle-aged reporter going from tank to tank asking:
"Is anyone here from Boston?"
A couple of young artillery
Officers came over to the General's jeep with the request: "Sir, let us lay
down a barrage. We will reduce the city to waist-high rubble, and your infantry
will walk in with their rifles slung!" The General said: "We will
Minutes later a jeep of the
41st Recon. Squadron came speeding out of the city waving a white flag. The
passenger was the Mayor of Bayreuth. He wished to surrender the city.
We gave him our usual
surrender terms: The Mayor was responsible for removing all road blocks; he was
also responsible for seeing that there were no German troops left in the
city—other than those who wanted to surrender. We regarded the Mayor as a man
of honor and accepted his word for the peaceful surrender of the city. However,
if we lost one man through the action of some sore-head or stupid
sixteen-year-old we would do two things:
1) We would hang the Mayor
from the nearest tree in the Public Square.
2) We would bum down the
Rathaus (City Hall).
Of the two prospects,
burning down the Rathaus appeared to be the more frightful and intolerable. We
sensed that the Rathaus was a symbol of the City's soul—and the disgrace of
having it bumed down could never be forgotten.
When we entered Bayreuth
the Mayor was removing the road blocks. The laborers were German teen-aged
girls. There were no men available. We visited the outdoor Pavilion where the
Wagner Festival is held. It reminded me of Ravinia.
Attached to our Division
was a young French Army Officer who acted as an Agent. He was fluent in German,
and, attired in civilian clothes, passed easily as a German. He was familiar
with Bayreuth and suggested that the local Gauleiter's Mansion on the outskirts
of town was worth seeing. Four jeeps set out for the place.
It was worth seeing. There
was a dramatic entrance up a tree-lined road, with a large park area at the
sides. We parked our jeeps at the entrance, passed through a wrought-iron gate,
and formed two files of four men on each side of the road—our rifles at the
ready. The house was empty and the front door unlocked. We walked into a richly
furnished mansion—dark wood paneling, oil paintings, and numerous Oriental
rugs. We had a stereotype in our minds of Nazi bigwigs being boorish beer-hall
brawlers, but this was the home of a man of excellent taste. Of course, maybe
the stereotype was right and it was a superior interior decorator to whom our
praise should be given.
I walked into the study. On
his large mahogany desk was a Nazi ceremonial knife with a wicked-looking blade
of Solingen steel in a beautifully-tooled leather sheath. This Gauleiter was
enjoying the best of everything. What a mess his kind had made for the people! I
took the knife as a souvenir.
April 20,1945 Grafenwohr. Germany
Grafenwohr was the home and
training ground of the German Panzer Units. It was a first-class military
establishment in every way. An ideal village had been built for the military
personnel and their families. This included several blocks of attractive, modem
When we entered a town our
Headquarters Commandant would designate office space for the various General
Staff Sections and then canvass the area for suitable living quarters for the
There was no problem in
Grafenwohr. Major Seimers, our Hq. Cmdt., merely gave the residents of the
choice apartment buildings sixty minutes to vacate their apartments—with the
Order: "Leave the doors unlocked."
Three of us were assigned
Apt. 217. We took our bedding rolls and weapons off our vehicles and went
upstairs to Apt. 217. It was nicely furnished and there was a grand piano in the
living room. Two of us threw down our bedding rolls on the beds in the bedroom,
and the third occupied a corner in the living room. We usually slept in our
bedding rolls rather than use the sheets and blankets we found on the
beds—maybe we did not trust the cleanliness of the sheets and blankets.
We had been in Apt. 217
about thirty minutes when there was a knock on the door.
I opened the door, and
there stood one of the Seven Dwarfs.
He was about 4'10." He
had a head oversized for the rest of his body, and a nose oversized for the
head. He had bushy black eyebrows and large brown eyes. He wore Lederhosen which
revealed knobby little knees covered with a coarse black hair—crummy worn
leather shoes—white knee-length woolen stockings—a Green Jacket of a cut
common to Bavaria, and a Tyrolean Hat with a little feather sticking up on one
He took off his hat and
held it with both hands clasped to his chest, as if in prayer, and spoke:
"I know that you and your comrades are occupying my apartment tonight. Take
anything you want from the refrigerator and enjoy it. But, PLEASE... PLEASE
don't harm my piano. Music is my life."
I was so glad that I had a
workable knowledge of German, because all the civilians assumed that an Officer
was bilingual or tri-lingual—all the career German officers were.
I told the dwarf that he
should not worry about his grand piano. We were not the oafish brutes that Dr.
Goebbels had said we were. Furthermore, we had more World Class symphony
orchestras in the United States than they had in Germany.
The next morning we left
Grafenwohr. As we pulled out I saw the little fellow standing on the comer. He
saw me, smiled, and waved his hand. He had checked out his apartment and found
his grand piano untouched. As I passed he shouted something I didn't quite
catch, but I think he was wishing me "Good Luck."
April 22, 1945
We were moving out, and I
was standing at the crossroads in the middle of town checking to see that our
units made the right turn and took the correct road out of town.
I felt a little tug on my
sleeve. I looked down into the face of a pudgy little hausfrau. She had the gray
complexion and the varicose veins on her legs common among the
civilians-symptoms of a sparse diet. The conversation went something like this:
Hausfrau: "Do you know
Capt. M.: "Yes. I am
not a Texan, but I have spent time in Texas. I know Texas."
is a Prisoner-of-War in Texas. He likes Texas. The people treat him well. He
works in the fields during the day—and at noon the people bring him something
to eat. After the war—my son—he would like to stay in Texas."
A shy little smile—and
then she disappeared around the comer.
April 24, 1945 Patersdorf.
Another village crossroads.
Our units were moving through. A jeep was parked close to mine and an Officer
was complaining about a radio that was not working. I went over to see what wave
length he was using.
A civilian strolled out
from a storefront and asked me: "Could he take a look at the radio?" I
told him: "Sure." He pulled out a little tool kit from his coat
pocket. He removed the case and partially disassembled the radio. He laid the
parts out on the jeep seat. He reassembled the radio and gave me a handful of
little parts. He told me: "You don't need these parts." He smiled and
disappeared into the crowd. The Officer turned on the radio. It worked fine.
There was a Concentration
Camp in the vicinity of Cham and this was our first contact with inmates. One of
our Combat Commands had liberated this Concentration Camp and the inmates had
killed the German guards and then streamed out on the roads in all directions.
The first thing you noticed
were the ugly violet and gray striped uniforms they wore. Then you took a good
look at their bony bodies. They were survivors. They had sustained mistreatment,
poor food, stress, and here they were—on the road. These were the ones with
enough energy to walk away from that Camp. We could only guess at the number
that were too weak to leave.
We convinced the survivors
on the road to return to the Camp. It was the central spot to which we could
deliver powdered milk, powdered eggs, rice, beans, and other staples to start
them back to a normal life. They could set up their own organization at the Camp
until the Red Cross and other agencies would take charge and repatriate them.
Driving southeast we kept
our eyes on the mountain range separating Germany and Czechoslovakia known as
the Bohemian Bastion.
An Armored Division on the
move is vulnerable—it stretches out about thirty miles when all the units are
We kept running our 41st
Recon. Squadron up and down the roads leading north to the mountains looking for
signs of enemy units coming south out of the passes. We knew that the Germans
had troops in Army strength up there somewhere. We did not want to get hit in
the flank on the move.
We did take the surrender
of an interesting unit on our front. It was a Battalion of Hungarians—some 500
strong. They were a horse-drawn unit—armed with rifles and a few small-caliber
artillery pieces. The surrender was their idea. We designated an area right next
to our bivouac area for them to assemble and they came in with their horses and
wagons. They had their wives and girlfriends along to drive the wagons. That
night they lit campfires and celebrated the end of their war. There was much
singing and dancing. It was such a pleasant surprise to see happy people. If you
shut your eyes and imagined that you heard the strains of "La Cucuracha"
it could have been a unit of Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution. It was that
kind of time warp in which the Hungarians found themselves insofar as armament
and equipment were concerned.
A QUESTION OF COLOR
We were driving southeast
toward the Austrian Border. Checking our progress I caught up with a column of
tanks, stopped at the roadside. A column of stopped tanks was enough to raise
the hair on the back of the neck of any Officer in Third Army. Tanks are
supposed to be moving, and if they are stopped there had better be a good
We drove to the head of the
column. In the first tank was a Sergeant. His body filled the turret of the
tank. He was wiping off his machine gun with an oily rag.
When it came to finding out
quickly what the situation was I was partial to asking Sergeants. If you sought
out a Lieutenant he would glance at the bumper of your vehicle and see the
letters HQ, and very likely refer you to his Company Commander. Just like in the
business world, there is always suspicion about the motives of a visitor from
the Home Office. So that is why I was partial to Sergeants. They didn't care
where you were coming from.
I asked the Sergeant what
was going on. He pointed to the road up ahead, which climbed over a small hill
about one quarter mile away. He explained that the Krauts had set up a road
block just over the crest of the hill. Our Infantry was up there now reducing
the road block. "It shouldn't be too long before we will be moving
again," he said.
The sound of small arms
fire stopped and a few minutes later a file of eight German prisoners came
walking down the hill toward us. They had their hands cupped on the back of
their necks and they were walking along with a sprightly step.
They were smart enough to
know that when you are taken prisoner the first few minutes are critical. Get
out of the area of the combat troops as soon as you can. Their adrenaline is
still flowing and their fingers are still on the triggers of their rifles.
Prisoner #8, bringing up
the rear, was a young blond lad. He stopped suddenly and faced the Sergeant and
me. With his hands still cupped on his neck he made that stiff little bow from
the waist that Germans and Central Europeans use and asked:
"Urn verzeihung, Bitte,
Herr Kapitan—aber welche Division sind Sie?"
Panzer-Division," I replied.
dank!" he exclaimed. "Ich furchte mich dass Sie die vierte
"Warum?" I asked.
He replied: "Diese
Schweinhunden wurden den eigenen mutteren schiessen!" ~
He bowed again, turned and
hurried after the other seven prisoners.
The Sergeant asked:
"Captain—what was that all about?"
I told him the young member
of the Master Race had asked me what Division we were. When I told him we were
the 11th Armored he said: "Thank God. I was afraid you were the 4th
Armored." When I asked: "Why?" he replied: "Those bastards
would shoot their own mothers."
The Sergeant smiled and
said: "Captain—you should have told him that if they were wearing German
field gray—so would we!"
There was a healthy rivalry
between the 4th Armored and the 11th Armored Divisions.
On our way across Germany
we were the spearhead Divisions for the Third Army—advancing side-by-side on
parallel road nets. At the end of each day our first question was: "How far
did the 4th Armored come that day?" If we equaled them or were a little
ahead of them at the end of the day it was deemed a satisfactory day.
AN EVENING AT THE
I was going to title this
Chapter, "A Typical Day in Combat," but there were no typical days.
Each day was different—depending on the terrain and enemy action.
The Forward Command Group
was on the road each day, following closely on the heels of the leading units.
If we were near a river,
and one of our Tank Battalions was leading, we might get a report from the Tank
Bn. Commander that he was up against infantry. The General would tell him:
"Clear the road to the shoulders and go for it!" In doing this we
might grab a bridge and also trap the enemy troops still on our side of the
river. Occasionally, one of our staff might ask: "General, aren't we taking
a chance?" The usual reply was: "That is what they pay me to do—take
chances." His experience made these educated chances.
The Boss of Third
Army—old Blood and Guts—was a shrewd tactician. He did not order an attack
just for the hell of it. He considered casualties over 10% unacceptable. The
refrain came down from Third Army like a drumbeat: "Steel and Ammunition
are expendable—Flesh and Blood are not expendable!"
The quickest way for a Unit
Commander to lose his job was to put his unit into a battle at a disadvantage.
It meant he was too lazy to find out what the enemy had, or he was just
incompetent—maybe both. His removal from command was sudden.
There were days when our
probing indicated we needed support. Sometimes we were held up two or three days
at a river, or a series of hills.
Some days we would approach
a village bristling with enemy troops. We would lay down a barrage of tank and
artillery fire, and reduce the village to rubble. Our Infantry would walk in
with their rifles slung. The enemy had pulled out.
Other days the enemy would
rise out of the rubble and dispute every yard—every foot.
Along about 2 P.M. we had a
rather good idea what the rest of the day held in store for us. At that time we
would decide in what village or town we would spend the night. There were
certain standing Orders to the lead units delegated to take possession of the
1) It would be cleared of
2) The largest hotel in
town would be spared so that we had a place to set up Headquarters.
3) The local meat market
would be spared.
The crew of our Hq.
Commandant would enter the town as soon as the fighting was over. They would
designate locations for the General Staff Sections, and, generally make
assignments for the Hq. personnel.
In the space of two or
three hours the various Staff Sections were in communication by
telephone—thanks to our wire-laying experts. If the electrical power plant in
the town was shot up, our Hq. Commandant had German electric generators—picked
up here and there along the way—mounted on wheels and hauled at the back of
our two and one-half ton trucks. These do generators produced the current for
lighting our Staff Sections.
By this time we had
established road blocks, positioned our machine guns, and organized a perimeter
Sgt. Horgan and his kitchen
crew would arrive in the kitchen truck and sample the products at the local meat
market. Even in a country where food was scarce, the local meat market always
held back some choice items for the big-shots. The big-shots were gone. We took
their place. The items appeared on the evening menu along with some good wines
Sgt. Horgan was thoughtful enough to liberate. An order came down from Third
Army to the effect that there would be no dipping into local food sources. The
thrust of the Order had to do with possible tainted foods. We did not ignore the
Order. Ignoring means you pretend it is not there. We knew about the order. We
just disregarded it. As the General said: "We'll just file that
About 8 P.M. Sgt. Horgan
and his crew were ready to serve Supper in the dining room of the Gasthaus
(Hotel). This was the one big meal of the day.
While eating we would share
the stories of the day. Someone had been back to Corps. One of our French Agents
may have come back from a mission into enemy territory-was the bridge over the
Danube at Passau still intact? Did you hear about Lt. Taylor and his squad of
56th Engineers-they had their truck hijacked and then recaptured it two hours
later? How far did the 4th Armored come today?
We had a trio of
musicians-accordion, violin, and bass-who provided music. We had Don Casanova as
an informal master of ceremonies. Don had been in the nightclub circuit out of
New York as a stand-up entertainer. We participated in sing-alongs. We enjoyed
About 10:00 P.M. our supper
was over-the singing was over; it was time to retire.
Always, Don Casanova would
sing "Ave Maria."
The Germans have a song
that they have been singing for 200 years honoring their comrades who fell in
battle at their side: "Ich hatte einen Kameraden."
We had "Ave
Maria." We remembered our fallen. But I think "Ave Maria" also
gave each of us a chance to thank somebody up there for helping us get through
the day unharmed. Tomorrow, we would be betting our lives again.
CHECKING OUT A RIDGE
There are ridge roads and
there are valley roads. Ridge roads have you on high ground where you have good
observation, and the enemy has to attack uphill to get at you. That is good. On
ridge roads you can be seen from the air easily by hostile aircraft. That is
Valley roads have you in
flat country where you can duck into wooded places to hide.
That is good. Valley roads
have hills on each side where enemy troops can set up mortars and artillery.
That is bad.
On this day we were driving
up a valley road. It was late afternoon. We had selected a wooded area for our
bivouac. It backed up against a high ridge.
We were setting up our
perimeter defense when I noticed Col. Conley looking up at the ridge. Col.
Conley was our Chief-of-Staff, brought in to serve in that capacity by Gen.
Dager when the change in command took place. He was a professional
soldier—West Point—Regular Army. He had commanded a Tank Battalion in the
4th Armored Division. He was a "can't miss" candidate for Brigadier
General sometime in the future.
Col. Conley was muttering
to himself: "If the Krauts come in at night and occupy that ridge we will
have mortar shells for breakfast in the morning." I agreed and suggested
that I had better take a couple of squads of our Recon. Platoon up there and
check out that ridge. Col. Conley looked at me and said he thought that was a
Why did I volunteer? An
Army maxim states: "Never volunteer for nothin'." I think it was
because I had confidence in this man. What he was suggesting was logical and
sensible. There is another Army maxim: "Take the High Ground."
If it had been a superior
Officer for whom my respect was lukewarm, I would have waited for him to give me
an order. My subconscious thought process would have signaled: "Let's see
if this guy has enough brains to recognize a situation and issue a logical
I alerted the Lieutenant
commanding the Recon. Platoon to assemble two squads. Mounted in jeeps we found
a road leading up to the ridge. When we reached the top of the ridge we
dismounted and moved on foot in single files along each side of the road.
After proceeding for about
one-quarter mile we saw a low-lying building about 300 yards away. We spread out
in a line of skirmishers—ten- to fifteen-yard intervals between men—and
advanced slowly on this building. In combat, you do things slowly. We sent out
air scouts on each flank.
The scouts announced that
the building was not occupied.
The building was a
beautiful little Chapel. It had stained glass windows and some remarkable wood
carvings. The whole area breathed Peace and Quiet.
We left a squad on the
ridge to spend the night, and the rest of us returned to the bivouac area below.
That night at supper I was
the butt of some good-natured kidding. "Did you hear about Capt. Moeller?
He took a couple of squads up on the ridge and attacked an empty church!"
I didn't care. I was pretty
sure that, in the morning, I could enjoy one of Sgt. Horgan's cheese omelettes
without having some Kraut mortar shells smashing through the roof of the Mess
OUR FIRST DAYS IN AUSTRIA
April 27,1945. The 11th
Armored Division had crossed the Austrian Border and the 90th and 26th Infantry
Divisions were closing up. I authorized Irwin (X Corps Commander) to let the
11th Armored lay up a couple of days for maintenance as it had been out of
action only four days in the last thirty. (Page 314: War As I Knew It –
May 1, 1945: Wegsheid.
This was our first Division
Hq. on Austrian soil. We sensed that the end of the war was near. The weather
was cold-snow Hurries almost every day. We were a tired bunch of soldiers.
May 5, 1945: Kirchschlag.
Kirchschlag was a little
village about ten miles out of Linz, in the hills on the north bank of the
Danube River. We occupied a modem apartment complex which suited our needs very
nicely. We were at home here from May 5th to May 23rd-during which time
President Roosevelt's death and VE Day occurred. But I am getting ahead of my
On May 5th our leading
units reached the bridge across the Danube at Linz. The bridge was intact, so,
like any good Third Army unit, we crossed over to the south bank, right into the
center of Linz, and took the surrender of the city from Linz's Burgomeister. We
radioed back to XII Corps and Third Army that we had taken Linz. The reply was:
"You can't take Linz. It is on the south bank of the Danube, and therefore
in the zone of the U.S. 7th Army." Our rejoinder was: "Do you want us
to give it back?"
Two days later the 65th
Infantry Division of the U.S. 7th Army "drove in and took Linz"
according to the Official Army Record. When the Advance Guard of the 65th
Infantry reached the central Public Square, a group of us were standing there to
cheer their accomplishment.
On the second day at
Kirchschlag, I happened to be out in the square formed by the apartment houses.
Four men dressed in the ugly violet and gray striped uniforms of a German
Concentration Camp walked toward me. The leader said (in German): "I am
Col. Novidoroff and these are my three Staff Members." The Colonel was of
medium height, with a brown complexion and eyes so shaped as to suggest some
Oriental blood in his background. He was thin and wiry—what else after time in
a Concentration Camp? The Colonel told me: "I commanded an Artillery
Battalion. I was taken prisoner at the Battle of Smolensk. A team of horses,
frightened by incoming artillery fire, broke loose and started to run away. In
grabbing for their halters one of the horses kicked me in the head. When I woke
up a German soldier was standing over me with a bayonet at my throat. That is
how I was taken prisoner."
I took the Col. and his
three Staff Officers to Col. Slayden, our G-2. Col. Slayden had been trying to
contact the Russians who were driving west from Vienna. To that date we had no
acknowledgement from them, although we could hear Russian communications on
certain wave lengths.
We relieved Col. Novidoroff
and his staff of their Concentration Camp uniforms and issued them G.I. woolens,
jackets, and caps—and assigned a jeep for their use. They were very pleased.
Col. Novidoroff got on the
radio to contact the Russians, but no Russian unit would acknowledge his calls,
There was another way to
contact the Russians—the Third Army way. We organized a
Reconnaissance-In-Force. That is Third Army lingo for a company of light tanks,
a company of armored infantry, and a battery of armored field artillery—with
orders to go east until they ran
into the Russians. I
accompanied this Task Force.
Twenty miles east of Linz,
on the south bank of the Danube, lies the town of Amstetten. We made contact
with the Russians there. They were dug in—fox-holes, personnel carriers positioned defensively. At a
later luncheon I mentioned this to one of the Russian Officers, and he said:
"We were not sure. We thought you might keep right on coming." The
Russians are not trusting souls with strangers. After we were accepted as
friends we found them to be a warm, generous people. I'm talking about
soldier-to-soldier contact—not political contacts with some of the jail-birds
that rose to the top under the Russian system—or, for that matter, some of the
nerds that rise to the top in our own political setup.
Following our initial
contact at Amstetten, Col. Novidoroff found it was easier to make contact with
the Russians. We learned that we had the 7th Parachute Guards Division on our
front, commanded by a General Dryshkin. We arranged a meeting with Gen. Dryshkin
and his staff at the middle of the Danube bridge at Linz at noon the next day.
The two Generals, American
and Russian, with selected members of their staffs, met on the bridge. It was a
warm and friendly meeting. We invited the Russians to our Headquarters for lunch
the following week.
May 7, 1945 Kirchschlag.
I had just had breakfast
and was returning to our Headquarters Building when I saw a Mercedes Benz
limousine—flying a white flag—enter our compound.
A German General got out
and asked to see our Commanding General. He was Chief-of-Staff for General
Vlasov. Remaining in the limousine was a stunning-looking young woman.
General Vlasov commanded
the White Russian Army.
In the chaos in Russia
following World War I the Red Communists and the White Russians fought for
control of Russia. The hatred had festered for a generation, and now the sons
and nephews of the original White Russians were fighting for General Vlasov on
the side of the Germans.
The White Russian Army was
in Czechoslovakia—directly north of us.
General Vlasov had sent his
Chief-of-Staff, and, as a gesture of his sincerity, his mistress to our
Headquarters to propose the surrender of his Army to the 11th Armored Division.
Our Staff radioed XII Corps
and Third Army. We started to do some map work—designating assembly points in
our area for the various units of the White Russian Army.
In the meantime we offered
breakfast to the German General and his companion. They made their way to our
Mess Hall. Our kitchen crew were used to seeing Germans as prisoners-of-war.
They were not about to serve breakfast to these two as guests.
It took about ten minutes
to explain to our G.I.'s what the unusual circumstances were and that it was
Gen. Dager's wish that these two be given courteous treatment. That included
breakfast. And it wasn't only the General's wish—it was an Order, Buster!
That night Third Army
ordered us not to accept the surrender of Gen. Vlasov's Army.
The Russians wanted those
treasonous bastards BAD—and I do mean BAD! We set up road-blocks on roads
leading south into Austria, and blocked a mass migration of White Russians
attempting to reach our Prisoner-of-war Compound.
Some of them still made it.
FIRST LUNCHEON WITH THE
General Dryshkin and five
of his Staff Officers arrived at our headquarters for lunch. They were
medium-sized, stocky men—all of them wearing plenty of Service Ribbons on
their tunics. The 7th Parachute Guards Division was an elite unit—that is what
the Guards means. It is the equivalent of our Presidential Unit Citation. It
means the Unit has been to hell and back.
They were Ukrainians. That
didn't mean much to me at that moment, but it did later on. They were a jolly
lot and we enjoyed ourselves in spite of the language difficulties. I was
impressed with their G-3. He was a stocky young man with features that suggested
a Middle-East heritage. He had lost one eye and wore a black patch over it. He
spoke a workable English. I asked him where he learned English and he told me
that he went to the library in his home town and took out an English grammar
book and he taught himself. That is some kind of man in my book.
We sat down for lunch. We
toasted Stalin, we toasted President Truman, we toasted Marshal Zhukov, we
toasted General Eisenhower. Things got pretty merry.
General Dager presented
General Dryshkin and each of his staff with a Colt .45 Pistol. They were very
pleased. When my Russian G-3 with the eye patch received his Pistol he was very
touched and said: "In the Ukraine, when a son reaches maturity his father
presents him with a gun and bids him to use it as his father and grandfather
used theirs before him. I promise to use this gun in that spirit." General
Dryshkin softly laid a hand on his arm and suggested by a gesture that he had
said enough. He didn't want a political commissar to hear about this and accuse
the Officer of treason.
At the end of World War I,
the Ukrainians expected to get Separate Nation status like Czechoslovakia and
Poland. They felt betrayed when they were included in the Russian Union. They
had fought the Russians for decades. To make matters worse—Stalin executed
thousands of Ukrainians, or starved them, in establishing Red Communist control
over this rich province.
And yet, here was the 7th
Parachute Guards Division—an elite Russian Division proven in
battle—composed entirely of Ukrainians.
Does this sound a little
bit like our two Japanese-American Battalions from Hawaii composed of Nisei
whose parents were in Concentration Camps in our western states?
At this first luncheon
there was no sign of Col. Novidoroff and his three junior Officers. I wondered
May 10, 1945: Kirchschlag.
When VE Day came there was
no wild celebration. It was more like a sober Thanksgiving. We retired at our
usual time and slept later the following morning. We felt more like marathon
runners who cross the finish line—proud of themselves, but too tired to do
anything but sit down and catch their breath.
The 7th Parachute Guards
Division had our General and key members of our General Staff for lunch the
It was still during the
rosy period of the Brotherhood of Warriors.
We celebrated VE Day
together. We toasted our leaders.
The number of toasts
mounted. I thought—at the rate we were going—we would all end up drunker
A solution for this was
presented by watching how the Russian Officers handled this. Each Officer
gathered three glasses in front of his place at the table: a water glass, a wine
glass, and a whiskey glass. As the toasts were made he switched from one glass
to another—and indulged in
a shell game with glasses.
At this luncheon General
Dryshkin awarded each of the American Officer-Guests a Guards Medal. When he
came to me his citation was: "For the many orders you carried out for your
General during Battle."
With the passing of VE Day,
it was time for Col. Novidoroff and his Staff to rejoin their Russian
At least I thought it would
be that simple. It was not.
There are three general
explanations for becoming a Prisoner-of-war:
1) You are knocked out—on
the ground or in the air—and find yourself in the control of the enemy.
2) The enemy deprives you
of food, ammunition, fuel, transport, and you cannot continue fighting.
3) Judging the situation,
you decide it is a good idea.
The Russian Army does not
buy Reason 3 at all. You talk about a good idea and they will tell you that
sending you to Siberia is a good idea. The Russian Army does not buy Reason 2
very often—you live off the country and make your way back to Mother Russia to
join a unit and fight again. The Russian Army will listen to Reason 1 much the
same way that a judge listens to a case. If the evidence is convincing you may
be reinstated in good standing.
It was clear to me now why
Col. Novidoroff spent the first minutes after we met telling me the
circumstances under which he had been taken prisoner.
It was clear now why Col.
Novidoroff and his staff did not make an appearance at our luncheon for the
Officers of the 7th Parachute Guards Division. Those Officers would have
regarded him as suspect until proven innocent.
After Col. Novidoroff was
returned to the Russian side I had an opportunity to visit a Russian Corps
Headquarters with Lt. Guirey, our Russian-speaking Officer, who was assigned to
the Division earlier in the month. Upon instructions from Gen. Dager we
expressed our appreciation for the help that Col. Novidoroff had given us. We
hoped that the Colonel would receive fair treatment upon his return to duty. The
Russian General smiled—displaying four of his front teeth of solid gold—and
remarked: "I am sure that Col. Novidoroff will get the treatment that he
Later we learned that the
Colonel was reinstated as an Officer in good standing.
The 7th Parachute Guards
Division got orders to move out around the end of May. We found that was a
standard procedure. Every six or seven weeks a Russian Division would move out
and be replaced.
Before the 7th Parachute
Guards moved out General Dryshkin sent General Dager a present. It was a pair of
leather boots—Russian Style—which General Dryshkin had made himself. Before
the war he had been a Boot-maker.
Replacing the 7th Parachute
Guards was the 49th Far East Infantry Division, commanded by General Marghelev.
General Marghelev could have played guard for the Chicago Bears. He was some
kind of physical specimen. And his men were Far East all right. They were yellow
skinned, slant-eyed Mongols—descendants of Ghengis Khan. They were a wild,
rough bunch. Their regard for human life was small, and the number of prisoners
they took in battle probably was small too. At the end of six weeks General
Marghelev said: "I'll be happy to take my troops back to the Far East. With
all this drinking and whoring going on here in Austria it will take me some time
to whip them back into shape."
COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR
On May 23rd the Division
Headquarters moved to Urfahr, Austria which is located on the north bank of the
Danube directly opposite Linz.
We moved into a
medium-sized hotel overlooking the Danube. We were assigned hotel rooms and my
roommate was Lt. Guirey, our Russian-speaking Officer assigned to our G-2
Lt. Guirey's father was a
White Russian of World War I vintage who had emigrated to the United States. Lt.
Guirey was a clean-cut young man who had learned his father's native tongue and
spoke Russian fluently. He was also a graduate of one of our Ivy League
Each day Lt. Guirey would
teach me some Russian phrase, which I would use at a Russian-American luncheon.
I learned just enough Russian phrases to fool some Americans—but not one
luncheons continued because we had thousands of displaced persons to exchange
from one side to the other—not only prisoners-of-war but also civilians who
had been caught up in the fortunes of war.
But the days of the
Brotherhood of Warriors that we enjoyed with the 7th Parachute Guards were over.
Actually we had our first
suggestion of coming events when we contacted the Russians at Amstetten and
found them in a defensive posture. A Russian Officer later said: "We
thought you might keep right on coming"—a remark which showed a Russian
mindset of a coming struggle among the Allies for control of Europe.
Also, there was the
continuing replacement of troops opposite us every six or seven weeks. It made
us think that Moscow did not want their soldiers to get used to the standard of
living of Western Europe. Even in war-torn Austria the standard must have been
better than that of towns and villages in Mother Russia.
One day I needed to deliver
a message to one of our units stationed at some distance south. Lt. Kelly, pilot
of one of the 490th Artillery Piper Cubs, happened to be available and offered
me a ride that way. We flew over the line dividing our zone and the Russian
zone. We watched the Russians driving cattle east toward railheads. We knew that
they were dismantling Austrian factories and shipping tools and machines east.
When you take the means of livelihood away from a people and then offer them
food and jobs under your own system it must be rather easy to convert them to
At Urfahr we were put on
Alert Status. There was trouble in Trieste, Italy. The Communist Party in that
area was attempting to take control of the government. We got out our maps of
southern Austria and Italy. We figured a time schedule for advancing through the
Brenner Pass into Italy. We were ready to kick some butts in Trieste. The
trouble in Trieste subsided.
It was about this time that
Gen. Dager was promoted to Major General—a richly deserved promotion.
Our Headquarters moved to
Gmunden, Austria on June 15th. The Officers of Div. Hq. were billeted in the
Hotel Schwan on the shore of the Traun See, in the center of town.
At the Hotel Schwan we had
a spacious dining room overlooking the lake. As waitresses we had some
Russian-born young women who had married German or Austrian soldiers and
considered themselves German or Austrian citizens. These young women reported
by Russian political agents
who had crossed over to our zone to convince these women to return to Russia.
Gen. Dager called this to the attention of the Russian General at our next
meeting. The Russian General professed complete ignorance. Two days later the
Russian agents were back in Gmunden. Our Military Police apprehended them, beat
them senseless, threw them on a truck, and dumped them on the border between our
zones. At the next meeting Gen. Dager mentioned this to the Russian General, and
ventured the opinion that if those agents were caught in our zone again our
Military Police would probably kill them. The Russian General replied:
" Da... Da...
Panimayou." (Yes... yes... I understand.)
At a few luncheons Lt.
Guirey reported that a Russian Officer approached him and asked quietly:
"To whom do you report?"
One question which Russian
Officers asked more than once: "Do you consider Russia a European or an
Oriental Nation?" We would answer: "European." In hindsight some
of the difficulties we had in getting agreements with them might have caused us
to review our
taking a look at their 49th Far East Infantry Division.
All of this was reported to
Third Army. It added fuel to Gen. Patton's dislike of Russians generally. Add to
that his moderate respect and admiration of the German people and you had a
political disaster waiting to happen when he was asked to administer a section
Germany after peace came to
We had been in Urfahr a
couple of days when word reached Div. Hq. that there was something up in the
hills about ten miles east of us that you had to see to believe.
The next morning a group of
us mounted in jeeps were guided alone a narrow road to Mauthausen, a
Concentration and Death Camp.
The iron gates were
open—with a wrought-iron arch over the gates proclaiming: "ARBEIT MACHT
FREI (Work Makes You Free)." A group of inmates were at the gate to greet
us. After our experience at Cham our troops had succeeded in convincing them to
stay at the Camp to facilitate delivery of food and medicines.
A tall Jewish girl greeted
us. "We knew you were coming. We thought you would never get here!"
All we could say was: "We came as fast as we could."
We walked down the center
aisle of one of the barracks. The smell of sweat and fouled bunks permeated the
wooden building. The bunks were triple-tiered. As we walked down the aisle the
inmates cheered us. I looked at the occupant of a bunk on the top level. He was
too weak to get out of the bunk. But he was cheering too. His mouth had a few
brown teeth left and his eyes bulged in that peculiar appearance of people in
advanced stages of starvation.
We were used to seeing
death. But a dead soldier is usually a young healthy-looking object whose life
has been suddenly cut short. The sight of people in the last stages of
starvation is ugly. We were happy to reach the end of the aisle and get back
into the fresh air.
On our arrival at the Camp
we had seen what we thought was wood piled at the sides of the barracks to fuel
the pot-bellied metal stoves. When we reached the door and looked closer at the
side of the barracks we saw that it was not pieces of firewood but human corpses
piled four deep.
There was some muttering
among us: "If we had seen this when we crossed the German border, we would
have taken fewer prisoners!"
In the following days our
Medics came in with a group of Army Nurses. They mixed up a gruel of powdered
milk and powdered eggs for the inmates in advanced states of starvation—their
stomachs were not able to accept solid foods. We brought in bulldozers from our
56th Armored Engineer Bn. to dig mass graves for the corpses. We sent trucks
into the center of Linz each morning and grabbed unsuspecting civilians with the
greeting: "Today you are going to work for the U.S. Army." We took
them to Mauthausen to help lay out corpses in the mass graves. Let it not be
said after such a day that the civilians in Linz did not know what had gone on
Mauthausen was a complete
work and death Camp. It had the shower rooms into which lethal gas was pumped.
It had ovens for disposing of corpses. It had police dogs. It had a huge stone
quarry to which the inmates were sent to work each day.
I spent several days there
conducting tours of the Camp as we brought in groups of soldiers from our own
units to see this example of Man's Inhumanity to Man.
The Germans had been death
on the Jews and very hard on the Russian prisoners. They were a bit easier on
some other nationalities. We were amazed to discover a contingent of Spanish
inmates who had been there since 1937—the end of the Spanish Civil War. It was
a surprise to realize how long this system of Concentration Camps had been in
business. It was a surprise to see how many of the Spanish contingent had
survived for seven years.
And then there was that
example of quiet heroism which took your breath away. This time it appeared in
the person of an inmate who turned out to be a British Naval Officer. He had
arranged to be taken prisoner somewhere in Italy. He had indicated that he was a
munitions expert, and volunteered to de-activate any dud bombs landing in the
general area. When a British Bombing Mission dropped a dud, he would be taken to
the spot to de-activate it. In the nose cone of the dud he would find messages
which he would conceal. In this way he kept track of our progress and estimated
within two days when Third Army Units would reach Mauthausen. When the Jewish
girl greeted us: "We knew you were coming"—she was telling the
truth. The Naval Officer's estimate of the date of liberation also was the
signal for the general uprising at Mauthausen in which the German guards were
Today there is a metal
plaque at the site of Mauthausen commemorating the date of Liberation and the
liberators: the U.S. 11th Armored Division.
GMUNDEN: June 15 to August
The northwestern corner of
Austria is known as the Salzkammergut. It contains a portion of the Austrian
Alps. The mountains rise steeply-forming narrow valleys, and, in some places,
beautiful mountain lakes.
In such a valley and on
such a lake lies Gmunden.
I am going to tell you
exactly where Gmunden is—with the thought that if you are ever in central
Europe it would pay you to take a couple of days and visit this part of Austria.
Gmunden is 40 miles east of
Salzburg and 125 miles east of Munich; it is 125 miles west of Vienna and 150
miles south of Prague. It lies at the north end of the Traun See. Travelling
south in the valley you will see picturesque churches and farms.
Gmunden is the area to
which the royalty of Austria came for the summer. On the road south from Gmunden
about three miles is the hunting lodge of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. It
became our Officer's Club. Not quite so far south on that road was the summer
home of Eva Braun, Hitler's
mistress. The home became the dormitory for Col. Poole, Chief Warrant Officer
Williams, and other personnel of the G-4 Staff Section. Across the road from Eva
Braun's home was a swimming club with a modem club house-spacious lounge, large
dining room overlooking the lake, kitchen, lockers, showers, etc. The Austrians
had carted in tons of white sand to make a beach rivaling that of any West
Indian island. This swimming club became the recreation center for the enlisted
The center of Gmunden was
an open quadrangle paved with bricks. The Hotel Schwan occupied the north end,
the Main Street of Gmunden the west end, a public park and promenade along the
lake lined with beautiful linden trees the south end. and the east end was open
to the Traun See, with a pier ready to receive yachts of important visitors.
Off the Main Street on a
narrow little lane—a short walk from the Hotel Schwan—was the Bier Stube. It
had leaded glass windows and attractive wood-panelled walls. There was a
Cathedral ceiling with exposed roof beams and massive horizontal beams—one of
which bore the carved inscription: "Die eltem tranken immer noch eins ehe
sie gingen." (The old-timers always drank one more before they left.)
The Gmunden area contained
German/Austrian hospital facilities where their soldiers healed and recuperated.
When we moved into Gmunden we shipped in food and medicines to augment their
meager supplies. This did not go unnoticed by the civilians.
The Officers of Div. Hq.
were billeted in the Hotel Schwan. On the first floor was an attractive dining
room with many windows overlooking the Traun See.
We experienced at Gmunden a
feeling that we would never have again—economic weightlessness. It was a life
in which money had no purpose or meaning. Our food and lodging were free. We got
a ration of cigarettes and liquor every couple of weeks—a carton of cigarettes
and three bottles of liquor. I bartered one pack of cigarettes for a bottle of
Dom Benedictine. One of the three bottles of liquor was usually a good
Brandy—so I had a B & B every night in my room as a nightcap. You bartered
cigarettes at the Bier Stube. I think I know how the astronauts must have felt
when they first experienced weightlessness in space. We had economic
weightlessness on earth. If you did need to make a major expenditure there was
the Finance Officer who issued Allied scrip which served as money. Every Officer
had built up credit in his personal account during the months in combat.
The civilians were living
in a different world. Shortages of food limited them to a personal diet of 1500
calories a day. On 1500 calories a day you stay in bed sixteen hours a day to
conserve energy. That leaves eight hours to live a normal life—and part of
that is taken up
looking for food. There was
no complaining. Our standard greeting: "Ist alles prima in Ostreich heute?"
invariably was answered: "Yo...yo...alles ist prima in Ostreich heute!"
(Everything is great in Austria today.)
Every afternoon at 5 P.M.
our soldiers in the Headquarters Company stood Retreat. That is when our flag is
taken down for the night. The ceremony occurred in the Quadrangle facing Traun
See. We were amazed to see the turnout of civilians for this ceremony. They
stood three and four deep around the Quadrangle. When the bugle pealed out
"To the Colors," we stood at Attention, in salute, and most of the
civilians stood at Attention, too.
The notes of the bugle
traveled across the narrow end of the lake, hit the steep mountainside on the
opposite shore and then rebounded back to us in echoes. The setting sun shone on
the mountain peak across the lake, bringing to mind words from Die Lorelei:
"der Gipfel des Berges funkelt im Abendsonnenschein." Here we
stood—thousands of miles from home—supported by the labor and good wishes of
all our people back in the States. To borrow a phrase from the Bible, we had
been and were a Terrible Swift Sword.
Our dealings with the
civilians were friendly. For them the war was over and they had no fight left in
them. Our coming to Austria signaled the end of a sad period in their lives.
There were soldiers in that German hospital who were crippled for life asking:
"What was this sacrifice all about?"
The policy of
non-fraternization fell of its own weight—officially, it was still in effect.
One of the first soldiers
to welcome a return to normal relations—notwithstanding the official
line—was our Mess Sgt. Horgan. In France and Belgium a group of little orphans
collected around his mess truck. He fed them. He gave them little jobs to do
around the kitchen and when we moved out, the little waifs were better fed and
better clothed than when we came. And they had recovered a sizeable amount of
their self-respect. A group of little orphans now appeared around the hotel
kitchen in Austria, and Sgt. Horgan was smiling again.
At Emperor Franz Joseph's
hunting lodge—now our Officers Club—we began to have buffets, sometimes with
a local musical ensemble paid off with K-rations. Girls answering to the names
of Hanna und Kristl und Erika began to show up. Col. Downer, our G-3, would ask:
"Who are these characters?" The standard answer was: "What
characters?" Some of the girls were nurses from the German hospital, some
were widows whose family owned a place on the Traun See, and some were survivors
who gravitated to the source of power. It will be the same in every war.
Word came through from
Third Army that the French Government wanted to decorate Gen. Dager with the
"Croix-de-guerre—Knight's Grade" for his part in the breakout from
the Normandy Peninsula at Avranches. Gen. Juin was coming to do the honors; he
ranked very high in the French General Staff. Gen. Dager said: "If he tries
to kiss me I am going to hang one on him!" An assortment of our General
Staff talked him out of that. Gen. Juin came. Our Division Band put on a good
show; not only "La Marseillaise" and the "Star Spangled
Banner" but also a creditable rendition of "Le Regiment de Sambre et
Meuse." The decoration took place without incident.
During this period our
enlisted men would get ten-day leaves to Paris or London. Many of them took the
ten-day leaves and just went up in the hills and spent them with some Austrian
During this period I had a
ten-day leave to Paris. Several of us went to a nearby Army Bomber Base and were
accepted as passengers on a bomber flying to Dijon, France. We flew over Lake
Constance in Switzerland and the Black Forest. We spent the night in a nice
hotel in Dijon, and then took the morning train to Paris. We were billeted at
the Hotel Crillon, just off the Champs Elysees.
For our return trip we took
army trucks to Austria with our enlisted men. On our return trip we went through
Stuttgart, the birthplace of my grandmother, Caroline Peters Moeller.
Approaching Stuttgart from the west you came down out of some hills and saw the
city lying in the valley. The houses were of light-colored stone which shone in
the sunlight. You thought: "What a beautiful sight!" The trouble
was-the houses were mere shells-Stuttgart had taken a thorough bombing.
In June and July we
regarded Gmunden as a wonderful place away from battle. We recharged our
batteries and got ready mentally for the Order to leave this life of leisure and
get back into the war. We knew that we would be transferred to the Pacific
Theatre of Operations for the final assault on Japan. We hoped that it would be
by way of the United States-perhaps with a thirty-day leave before embarking for
the Orient. Back in battle we were confident that—whatever it took—we could
A Decoration Ceremony was
scheduled at the Headquarters of one of our Armored Infantry Battalions
stationed at Bad Ischl.
We drove through a
beautiful valley complete with picturesque churches with onion-shaped steeples.
We were in Bad Ischl to
award Silver Stars and Bronze stars to soldiers who had distinguished themselves
in the last campaign of the European War—the Battle for Central Europe. In
front of the Battalion Headquarters stood a pergola—one of those things made
of wooden lattice-work arching over a walk. It had benches built into it on each
side. You planted rambling roses on the lattice-work and hoped they would climb
up and cover the arch so that you had a shady place to sit.
The Battalion had installed
a full-length mirror on one of the benches with the hope that each soldier going
on leave would check his appearance and do the Battalion proud.
On the arch of the pergola
was inscribed: "Through this Portal Pass the Finest Infantry in the
We remembered that this
pergola had been installed in front of Bn. Hq. when we were stationed at Camp
Cooke, Lompoc, California.
At Camp Cooke we had
watched units of this Battalion taking combat tests under Corps supervision to
determine their readiness for the European Theatre. On the basis of the tests
there was a lot of room for improvement.
We smiled then at the
hopeful inscription "Through This Portal Pass the Finest Infantry in the
World." At that point in their training it was like telling a high-school
quarterback that he is ready for the National Football League.
When our orders came to
ship overseas the pergola was disassembled and shipped overseas. Now, at Bad
Ischl, this pergola was reassembled.
After the Decoration
Ceremony we stood in front of Battalion Headquarters chatting with the Battalion
Commander and his Staff.
We watched a group of
soldiers leaving on passes.
They stopped at the
pergola—observed their appearance, adjusted their ties, and made sure that
their caps were cocked at a jaunty angle over the left eye. The rest of the Army
cocks their caps over the right eye. The Armored Divisions cock their caps over
the left eye. Why?
Because we are
different—we are something special. Make anything out of that you want to.
The soldiers wore their
European Theatre ribbon with three Battle Stars: The Battle of the Bulge, The
Palatinate Campaign, and the Battle for Central Europe. A few of them wore
recognition ribbons for Silver Star and Bronze Star awards.
As they passed under the
arch it was evident that there was no doubt in their minds that they were the
finest infantry in the world.
There was no doubt in our
luncheons continued during our stay at Gmunden. Thousands of prisoners and
waylaid civilians were exchanged and repatriated.
During this time both sides
expressed the idea of having representative Division teams play each other in a
game that was mutually acceptable.
It was not so easy to pick
a game. The Russians favored soccer—a game which, at that time, was foreign to
most Americans. The same thing applied in reverse when baseball was suggested.
It appeared that volleyball
was a game common to both Russians and Americans. It was agreed that the 11th
Armored Division would field a volleyball team to play the team of our opposite
When volleyball was chosen
as the game there were Officers in Div. Hq. who began to lick their lips.
Our Div. Hq. Volleyball
Team had won the Division Championship rather easily back in the States. We had
Officers in some of our Rear Echelon Sections who were excellent athletes, and
some of us in Forward Echelon had previous athletic experience at the college
As a member of the team I
was the only one familiar with the typical Russian-American luncheon format
which would precede any Volleyball game.
I conducted a seminar among
the team members. I explained carefully how you assembled three glasses in front
of your place at the table. When toasts were made, you deftly switched to the
glass containing the water whenever possible. In that way we stood a chance of
getting on the volleyball court in a condition somewhat less than stoned.
The date was set for the
next luncheon and we were to be guests of the Russians. This was going to be no
ordinary luncheon. The head of the Russian Army was going to be the honored
We practiced every
afternoon during the next week. We reached a peak of performance. We were
spiking the ball like wildmen. We were going to kick their butts.
The day of the luncheon
arrived and we motored to the border of the Russian zone, where we were greeted
with much fanfare. We were guided to the Russian Division Headquarters. It was a
distance of about five miles. The Russians had placed a soldier every 100 yards
to salute our motor cavalcade as it passed.
The luncheon was held in an
attractive hotel. I noted with some pleasure that my team members had remembered
the seminar concerning the standard game plan on toasts.
Then we learned that the
volleyball game had been scratched in favor of an exhibition soccer game between
two Russian championship teams. We felt a little let down, and figured someone
had reported to the Russians our furious practice sessions during the week past.
Lt. Harris, on my left,
expressed the need to visit the men's room. I accompanied him to the door of the
dining room where a Russian Lieutenant was on duty. I asked: "Pajoolsta-gedyeh
obornaya?" The Russian Lt. smiled and directed us down the hall. I smiled
and replied: "Spasebo." As we walked down the hall Lt. Harris said:
"I didn't know you could speak Russian."
Some weeks later a group of
us, including Lt. Harris, found ourselves in an army truck making our way
northward into central Germany. Victory in Japan had happened, the 11th Armored
Division was being de-activated, and those of us in the truck were going home
with the 5th Armored Division. We retraced our route through cities we had taken
in combat. At an unexpected place in the road we ran into a red-and-white
Boundary Gate manned by Russian soldiers. We stopped our truck and I got out to
survey the situation. The head of Lt. Harris popped out of the back of the
truck. He said: "You speak Russian. Tell them what we want to do!" I
looked at Lt. Harris and said: "Asking this joker 'Where is the toilet?' is
not going to get us anywhere."
We turned around and
detoured about 150 miles to circle the new Russian Zone before we reached the
Headquarters of the 5th Armored Division.
Gen. Dager took command of
the 5th Armored Division located in central-western Germany in the vicinity of
He took some of his key
personnel from the 11th Armored Division with him: Col. Conley. Col. Downer,
Col. Slayden, Col. Poole and some others, in addition to Capt. Moeller and Lt.
Lt. Abraham was now Gen.
Dager's junior Aide. He had been in Military Intelligence before joining the
Division. He spoke a fluent French and a workable German. He had been a
Professor of Economics at Michigan State University prior to the War, and, in
spite of his youth, had been published in that field. He was a Jew, born and
raised in Brooklyn. He had a well-developed sense of humor and was well-liked by
everyone. After the war he returned to Michigan State, and. in the course of a
few years, he was offered the Presidency of the University—which he turned
The 5th Armored Division
started its move to the point of embarkation at Le Havre. We were going home.
The General's Section
organized a truck crew consisting of some four Officers and eight enlisted men
to make the trip from central Germany to Le Havre in a two and one-half-ton army
We started on August 28th,
and made our way leisurely toward our destination - stopping at Army
Installations along the way for room and board. On September 2nd we were in
Kaiserslautern, in the area of our successful Palatinate Campaign. On September
3rd we crossed into France and stayed in Nancy. On September 6th we were in
Reims, where we picked up our foot lockers which had been stored for us when we
went into combat—some eight months earlier.
On the way to Le Havre we
developed a routine which provided a few laughs. Upon making a pit stop or
grabbing a fast bite of food in a French village we would park the truck the
Main Street and then wait for some young mother to come along wheeling a baby
Lt. Abraham would be the
central actor. He would ask the young woman: "Quelle est cette Departement?"
The young woman would reply: "Departement de Oise." Lt. Abraham would
smile, wave his hand at the baby carriage and ask: "Souvenir de les
Americains?" The young woman would giggle, or snicker, or outright laugh
with a reply: "Mats non. Messieurs!" We could just imagine the
reaction of an American mother to a question like that exploring her baby's
paternity and we were sure it would not be a laugh.
On Sept 11th we reached Le
Havre where we stayed until September 28th—when we embarked.
The facilities at Le Havre
were of the ordinary Army Camp standard. However, Gen. Dager was assigned a
French chef to prepare our meals. The French chef fixed all the usual French
dishes. At one luncheon he had carved an American Eagle out of ice to decorate
our table. At the end of two weeks we had gotten used to French cooking—and it
didn't seem so stupendous. When you cook everything in butter—it ought to
taste good. That was before the advent of Nouvelle Cuisine, and the French chefs
were still clogging the arteries of their clients. Our French chef was a quiet,
serious man. He gave me the impression that he considered us a collection of
uncouth savages. But, for him—at that time—a job was a job.
Just waiting for a ship
gets pretty dull, so on September 24/25 the General decided to spend a couple of
days in Paris. We checked out a sedan at the motor pool, and, armed with a map
of Paris, we saw the usual tourist attractions: the Louvre, Napoleon's Tomb,
We sailed from Le Havre on
September 29th. This time our accommodations were better. The days were
uneventful. About every hour the loud speaker would play the popular tune of the
day: “Sentimental Journey.” I can still see some of the 5th Armored division
infantry and tankers sitting on the sunny deck with half-closed eyes listening
to that tune. After their months in combat some of them were completely bushed.
Lt. Abraham, Sgt. Raymond
(the General’s jeep driver), and I spent the hours eating and playing Hearts.
We became very good at hearts. We even got to the place where two of us would
gang up on the third man to make it more interesting.
On the morning we were scheduled to dock we were on deck early. The New York Harbor area appeared on the horizon, and we spotted the Statue of Liberty. As we approached closer the Lady appeared to waving at us, so we waved back. Our ship reached the Harbor Area, passed Staten Island, and proceeded up the mouth of the Hudson River to the Docking Area. On the Jersey side of the Hudson was a multi-storied factory – just an unimaginative rectangular building facing the River. On the side of the building was huge sign with gigantic block letters that said: “WELL DONE WELCOME HOME”